Within a couple of months of its opening, David Chang has had many lined up to eat at his now famous Momofuku Noodle Bar at NYC. This young Korean-American Chef brings out his own innovative Americanized versions of Asian Cuisine at his restaurant.
When I was in Japan, I spent several months working for a soba master who had been making soba for 20 years. I’d watch him mix buckwheat flour and water, roll out the dough and cut it into noodles.
ASIANCE: What bonds you to the world of cooking?
David Chang: Well, I graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut with a major in religion and worked in financial sectors. But I realized I didn’t want to sit behind the desk and work all day. And cooking is something that I really like to do. So, I went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City and I am pursuing my passion now.
ASIANCE: Has studying religion helped you in your present career?
David Chang: Yes, it has given me a better understanding of the significance of what we do. I am not religious at all but I wanted to learn more and know more about it. I believe it has helped me a lot in decision-making and also not to be reckless.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your culinary journey.
David Chang: Before Momofuku, I worked at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen. I was also a part of the opening team of Craft Restaurant for Chef Tom Colicchio. Then, I spent a couple of months in Japan learning the art of soba and studying Japanese cuisine at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. After I returned to New York, I worked at CafÃ© Boulud.
ASIANCE: How did you come to open your restaurant Momofuku Noodle Bar?
David Chang: When I was in Japan, I spent several months working for a soba master who had been making soba for 20 years. I’d watch him mix buckwheat flour and water, roll out the dough and cut it into noodles. When you’re so focused on one thing, it’s like Zen culture. Every day, I make soba and with the purpose to get better and better.
I decided to open a noodle bar in the East Village. But I wanted it to be different, so instead of trying to make the real traditional Japanese ramen, I’ve come up with my own version and style. And there was nothing to lose when I opened Momofuku since I wasn’t established nor was a big name. I’d say it’s really hard to open a restaurant in New York but we got really lucky with Momofuku.
ASIANCE: What is the concept behind Momofuku Noodle Bar?
David Chang: Momofuku’s original concept was to be a simple ramen bar. But I am not trying to make Japanese traditional noodles. I don’t replicate food that I have respect for. So, I have my own style with unique flavor components. We get fresh ramen noodle from local produce and not frozen ones from Japan.
ASIANCE: Momofuku Noodle Bar has an open kitchen. What was your thought behind it and what inspired you to place barstools in the restaurant?
David Chang: It was purely because of space. It’s all plywood and I’d say there’s nothing Japanese about it. It’s human nature to stereotype so I think many believe it gives a Japanese ambience. But the open kitchen and the barstools are there because we had a small space to work with. I wanted the restaurant to be really simple.
ASIANCE: How would you define your cuisine? What is the most popular dish at Momofuku?
David Chang: I’d say it’s New American Cuisine. It isn’t fusion cooking but it’s not traditional cooking either. I have too much respect for culinary tradition to duplicate them.
I love and enjoy eating Korean food. But when it comes to cooking, I don’t want to duplicate traditional cooking, so I have my own Americanized version of dishes.
The most popular dishes at Momofuku are definitely Ramen and Pork Buns. Momofuku’s pork buns are steamed and are smeared with hoisin sauce. And it’s probably six times less the price at Daniel but of the same quality.
ASIANCE: We know you have a Korean background, do you have any interest in Korean cuisine? How does your background play into your cuisine at your restaurant?
David Chang: I love and enjoy eating Korean food. But when it comes to cooking, I don’t want to duplicate traditional cooking, so I have my own Americanized version of dishes.
ASIANCE: What is it like to be nominated for the Rising Star of the Year (for 2006 James Beard Foundation Awards)?
David Chang: It’s a great and a wonderful honor but I think it’s comical (laughs). There are other guys who are nominated and they are really cooking. It’s funny that I am nominated.
ASIANCE: What’s next for you?
David Chang: I am busy with the opening of my second restaurant. It will be set this summer and it will be called Momofuku Sam Bar. It’s just a couple of blocks from Momofuku Noodle Bar and it will be just different and unique.
ASIANCE: Please name your favorite restaurants.
David Chang: WD-50, Hearth Restaurant, Per-Se
ASIANCE: kind of blenders do you recommend?
David Chang: Vita-Mix is a very useful kitchen appliance. It’s safe to use and is great for grinding and kneading as well. Visit Vita-Mix website
ASIANCE: Can you recommend a grocery store to buy Asian ingredients in NYC?
David Chang: Deluxe Food Market 79 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10013
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