NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - David Chang, who has been praised for his innovative dishes that combine Asian and Western ingredients, chronicles his ascent to Michelin-star chef in his first cookbook.
In “Momofuku,” which means lucky peach in Japanese, Chang and writer Peter Meehan describe how his noodle obsession blossomed into a successful career and the story behind his three New York eateries — Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar and Momofuku Ko.
The 32-year-old spoke to Reuters about being his own toughest critic and why customers are not always right.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the book?
A: “We don’t want a legacy or anything like that. No one is going to care about this in 20 years. Currently if someone gets the book, I hope he says ‘Wow, I’m really happy. I got the book and I learned some things.’ And I hope they tell everyone else to buy this book as well.”
Q: Why did you write this book in this format rather than straight-forward book of recipes?
A: “We have been under the microscope at least in the blog world and the food media. Peter (Meehan) and I wanted to document what happened because of this everyday feeling that Momofuku won’t exist in a week. It’s a cool story to tell from a mediocre writer and a mediocre chef. With our combined mediocre talents, we made a something that’s mediocre-plus.”
Q: What drives you and your staff to serve the best food every day?
A: “We try our best. We want people to come in to have a great meal in our restaurants. And if they hate our restaurants, then we fail. I feel there’s nothing that’s more discouraging to someone who works at a restaurant. We don’t care about anyone else’s standards. We care about the standards we set for ourselves, and if people leave disappointed, then we fail ... We want people to walk out and say to themselves, ‘Damn that was worth every penny. I wanted to walk in hating this place, but I can’t.’”
Q: So you are your own worst critic?
A: “As a restaurant if we are not assessing ourselves on a daily basis whether it’s lunch, dinner or on a holistic level, if we are not our harshest critics, then we are not as good as we want to be. Secondly, sometimes we listen to the public but for the most part the person who came up with the theory that customers are always right is a total moron. That may have been right in the 50s and 60s, but that’s a long time ago.”
Q: You are one of the hottest chefs around. What do you think of this media attention, even hype around you?
A: “We have obligations. We have to sell this book. We have some 300 employees. If we don’t get the word out in this bad economy, we won’t be able to employ everybody and we can’t give benefits to everybody. My job is to be this face of the company, and that’s what I have to do. I look at these restaurants like my kids. I’m not a parent yet. I think most parents will do whatever it takes to support their children. At the end of the day, this is a business. It’s not as artistic as you like it to be and as it’s talked about in Europe and Japan. We are in New York and it’s sexy and stuff. At the end of the day, it’s a business.”
Q: How is your business faring in this economy?
A: “We have been lucky and fortunate since day one when we opened up. Unfortunately sometimes people have excuses. I’m not a big fan of having an excuse. If we don’t perform, I don’t want the economy to be an excuse. That’s because we didn’t find a way or we didn’t have the foresight to make corrections. So things should always be improving.”
Q: What is it like working for you? What do you expect from your employees?
A: “Everyone has to contribute an opinion. If they don’t have an opinion, they should find another place to work. If they are going to be contributing their opinion, it had better be backed up with logic, reason and rational thought.”
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney