POPSUGAR Celebrity

Happy Birthday, David Chang! A Look Back at His Biggest Culinary Moments and Controversies

Aug 5 2011 - 5:25pm

Today isn't just Friday; it also marks the birthday of our favorite hot-blooded New York chef David Chang. In recent years, the Korean-American chef has garnered a worldwide following for his Momofuku restaurants and self-described "vaguely Asian" food — but it wasn't all that long ago that he was shedding blood, sweat, and tears as a line cook for Daniel Boulud.
As he celebrates his 34th birthday tonight (with another star-studded party [1] at an of-the-moment Manhattan restaurant, perhaps?), we're taking a quick look back at Chang's rise to fame, his always-incitable comments, and his evolving culinary persona.
Source: Flickr User david_shankbone [2]

Opening Momofuku

In August 2004, inspired by an eight-month stint apprenticing at ramen shops, restaurants, and izakayas in Tokyo, David Chang opened his first restaurant in a 650-square-foot space in Manhattan's East Village. He'd grown weary of fancy food: "I wanted to do something, and I knew it wasn't going to be fine dining," he told New York magazine [3]. Fancy it wasn't; his signature dishes included pork belly buns and his take on Japanese ramen, topped with pork shoulder, pork belly, and a poached egg. He named the place Momofuku Noodle Bar [4], which translates to "lucky peach," with a nod to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles.
Source: Flickr User B*2 [5]

The Accolades Start Rolling In

Things didn't take off right away; the chef at a nearby noodle shop told Chang he was doomed to fail [6]. But shortly thereafter, Chang's ramen wunderkind status catapulted him to cult celebrity status. He won Food & Wine's Best New Chef award in 2006 [7], and then went on to open another restaurant, Momofuku Ssäm Bar [8], down the street from his original noodle bar location, with a larger and more varied menu. The following year, he took home a prestigious James Beard Award [9] for Rising Star Chef, along with Bon Appétit's Chef of the Year Award [10].
Photo Source: WireImage [11]

No Photos, Please!

One of the first Changian controversies came in 2008, when Chang opened his third restaurant, Momofuku Ko [12]. There, he implemented a no-photography [13] rule, saying, "It's just food. Eat it!" Plenty of food enthusiasts — including some of you — commented that the move "smacks of arrogance and elitism."
Source: Flickr User mastermaq [14]

Struggling to Settle Into Celebrity Chefdom

It was on location at Slow Food Nation over Labor Day in 2008 when I first sat down with David Chang [15]. He spoke of the strangeness of fame, and the culinary world's high expectations for him: "It's absurd and comedic. I'm just that dude!" he exclaimed. When I asked him about future projects, he quickly responded, "That's certainly flattering, but we're just trying to keep it running." Little did he know that what he had on his 2008 plate was just the tip of the iceberg.
Photo Source: WireImage [16]

Chang's Expanding Empire

Just two months later, David Chang expanded Momofuku Ssam Bar into an adjacent space, and opened Momofuku Milk Bar, his first dessert venture. There, he and pastry chef Christina Tosi turned the world of dessert on its head with dishes like Crack Pie, Compost Cookies, and Cereal Milk soft serve. He also collaborated with New York Times writer Peter Meehan to produce his first cookbook, aptly titled Momofuku [17]. In typical Chang form, it was littered with swear words, and full of elaborate recipes, including one for his trademark ramen, which took up nearly 20 pages.
Photo Source: Amazon [18]


At the time, Chang stayed busy, not only between his four restaurants and book tour, but also with his sharp-tongued comments at chef panels. One that will most certainly go down in notoriety was the comment he made to Anthony Bourdain [19] at 2009's New York City Wine & Food Festival, where he was quoted as saying [20], "I will call bullsh*t on San Francisco. There's only a handful of restaurants that are manipulating food . . . f*cking every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate with nothing on it." The comment added fuel to the East Coast-West Coast food fire, as reflected by a San Francisco Momofuku book signing that actually got canceled in response. The Bay Area food world still can't stop talking about it [21].
Photo Source: Thinkstock [22]

David Chang's Response

David Chang defended his statement, calling the whole event "retardedly stupid . . . People need to smoke more marijuana in San Francisco," he told SFoodie [23]. "It got taken out of context," he added, when I spoke to him [24] shortly thereafter. "The people who took it the wrong way — I can't control that. I wasn't even drunk when I said it!"
Photo Source: WireImage [25]

TV in His Future?

At that time, I asked Chang if he was open to ever doing TV in the future. One thing was certain: "I will never do Top Chef Masters [26]," he declared to us [27]. "The only way I'll do TV is if we pursue the truth and be honest about it. It has to be educational, not self-serving, and if it is self-serving at all, it should give awareness to what other chefs are doing. The concept of a TV show is something I don't necessarily feel comfortable with. Public persona, it's a weird thing."
I was, in turn, pretty surprised to see him judging the finale of Top Chef 7 [28] less than a year later.
Photo courtesy of Bravo [29]

Eyes on the World

By the end of 2010, Chang had long opened a fifth restaurant, Má Pêche [30], in Midtown Manhattan, and the food blogosphere was all agog over speculation that he might open his ">first non-US restaurant [31], Momofuku Sydney. "There's something in Australia that Americans have never opened up at — Australians are very serious about their food, their coffee culture, and their drinks," he told Eater [32].
Photo Source: Thinkstock [33]

David Chang: Journal Editor, Harvard Lecturer, Farmer?

These days, David Chang spends less time in the kitchen plating food and more time as one of the faces of the New York's avant-garde food scene. In December 2010, he gave the final lecture [34] at Harvard's Science and Cooking symposium on using failure as a catalyst for culinary innovation. Two months ago, he released his first issue of Lucky Peach [35], a quarterly journal and iPad app from publisher McSweeney's. As for TV, it could still be in the cards. "They want me to go on a farm and yell at people," he said of his numerous TV proposals [36]. Never say never . . .Photo Source: McSweeney's [37]

Source URL