David Chang has revolutionized the culinary landscape of New York City and has influenced the tastes of a nation with his eclectic East Village eateries, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, the award-winning Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar, and the new Momofuku Midtown outpost (Ma Pêche) opening next month. Chang has also been honored as a Food & Wine Best New Chef, Bon Appétit Chef of the Year, GQ Man of the Year, and is the winner of three James Beard Awards. Chang's debut cookbook, Momofuku, written with Peter Meehan, is easily one of the most anticipated cookbooks of the year.
I recently caught up with Chang and Meehan to talk about their ambitious cookbook; the joys of bourbon, bacon, and fried chicken; a detailed history of Ssäm Bar's John McEnroe poster; why you won't find Christina Tosi's recipe for Compost Cookies in the book; tips for scoring a resy at Ko; and much more. Read on or listen to our podcast of our marathon chat, and stay tuned for more Momofuku as we count down to next Tuesday's publication date. We'll be highlighting featured recipes--with an exclusive, not-found-in-the-cookbook dish--and an annotated list of Chang's favorite cookbooks.
Amazon.com: Gentlemen, I think I've read your book, cover to cover, three times now. It's really just fantastic. It certainly, as you'll probably hear, has more f-bombs per page than any other cookbook out there right now.
David Chang: [Laughs] Actually, I think we took some f-bombs out.
Peter Meehan: Yeah we did, I kept a few in.
Chang: I mean, I didn't know that was the only word I used--
Meehan: No, like every third word you use.
Amazon.com: I know that, with that infamous New Yorker profile of you there was some feedback that "he needs to clean up his language" and "he's not representing himself well," but that's just genuine "chefspeak"--
Chang: If you get into any normal kitchen, any kitchen that tries to do serious food, I guess, or tasty food. There's a lot of vulgar language... that's just the way it is. I don't know how else to describe it. It's one of the reasons why it's a tribute to the profession. You can act like a total buffoon--almost--but still work and cook and do your job. Unfortunately, for everyone around me, it's carried into my personal life.
Amazon.com: Tell us how you guys teamed up. I understand Mark Bittman played a role in your introduction.
Chang: Peter had reviewed us for the $25 and Under column he was writing for the New York Times and he gave us a review, but he didn't originally like it and we didn't get reviewed for eight months or so. Which is strange, because you usually get reviewed in the Times in your first three months. Later I found out it was because Peter really hated our restaurant.
Meehan: It was not a very good restaurant.
Chang: [Laughs] I don't blame him, I wouldn't want to eat there either. But after the review came out--
Meehan: I started going pretty regularly. Early on Noodle Bar was rough going--at the time it was six or seven months old. It was a great place to eat and I wrote a pretty glowing review of it. It's in the neighborhood I live in so I started going every weekend, mostly with Mark Bittman who I had worked with and worked for him before he came to the Times. We had kind of a standing lunch date. After five or six or ten or however many times we'd been there he kind of like, I'm not going to pretend--
Chang: I had done a couple of things with Mark Bittman for the New York Times, so Bittman came in for lunch one day and said, "Hey, this is Peter Meehan." And I was like... I think there were a few expletives. I was shocked that this guy, who I had recognized, was the food critic who had been coming in to our restaurant. So, that was it.
Meehan: And then we started hanging out and kind of became friends and I stopped writing about him for the paper. At a certain point he was getting hounded by book agents and cookbook writers to put together a cookbook. He asked me to do it, and I said yes.
Chang: I've always liked Peter's writing. Even if he wasn't a food writer I liked what he was writing and what he did. We had a lot in common--at least musically.
Amazon.com: Peter writes about that in the introduction--you talk about running into him at a concert.
Amazon.com: And you said to him, "Are we going to pretend like we don't know each other." I love that.
Meehan: That was his pickup line.
Amazon.com: Seemed to work, right?
Meehan: It did, it did. I mean, he had a cold beer, we're at a concert, and it was either that or being able to write about him for the newspaper. In the end the cold beer sounded far more appealing.