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Interview with Best New Chef David Chang

On his first job in Japan. "Fuyu-Rin was a tiny soba house, only 12 seats. The chef, Akio Hosaga told me how to make things, but he wouldn't let me touch anything. He barely let me wash the dishes, they were so fragile. Finally after four months, he gave me a rolling pin, took me out to dinner and said, 'I've taught you everything I know.' Which was a polite Japanese way of firing me. I'd just bought a really expensive knife, too."

Why he became a chef. "I was terrible at desk jobs. After college [at Trinity, in Hartford, Connecticut], I had a financial job—very briefly. Growing up, my dad owned a restaurant in Washington, DC, and food was something I was passionate about. But when I finally got into it, I felt like it was so late in the game; that's why I worked seven days a week at Craft and Mercer Kitchen. I wanted to see how far I could take it."

Career turning point. "I went to the French Culinary Institute [in New York City] for six months. I graduated, but I liked working more than school. I learned so much more prepping vegetables than I ever did in cooking school."

Most memorable experience. Cooking for Alex Lee, former chef at Daniel, when he came to Momofuko. "He's one of my heroes. A Chinese American chef who's legendary in culinary circles because he's so hard-core. He's the man."

Most humbling moment. "When I was working at Craft with Jonathan Benno, he put a chicken liver mousse on the menu. He was so into it that he bought his own Bernardaud oval terrines at $70–$80 a pop. I broke the majority of them when I tripped and fell. I still remember the look on his face."

Favorite childhood dish. Ja jiang mien, a Korean-Chinese dish of freshly stretched noodles and black soy bean paste.

What he loves about Momofuko's menu. "It's a noodle menu that's just evolved. We serve what we want to. I love that we use crazy small farmers. I'll do anything I can to promote pork guys in Kansas. We found Allan Benton, who does smoked country hams in Madisonville, Tennessee—now Keen's Steakhouse buys their bacon."

Most exotic item on his menu. Braised and then deep-fried pig tails.

Favorite kitchen tool. "I would say, my Cryovac machine for sous-vide cooking. When the health department lets me use it again."

Fantasy splurge. Michel Bras in Laguiole, France.

Favorite cheap eat. Fried dumplings at Fried Dumpling on Allen Street in Chinatown. "They're northern-style dumpling (the more north you go, the thicker and chewier the dough gets). Five of them costs a buck."

Favorite guilty pleasure. Chicken fingers from any fast food place. "Any processed chicken from any place—I'll order it in a heartbeat. I'm very picky about my pork, though."

What his Food Network show would be. A show called Just Make it Happen, based on an idea from his friend Matt Greco. "A lot of times you're presented with impossible circumstances in the kitchen: Your cooktop isn't working, your meat delivery didn't come in. This would be a real-life show. And it would be on HBO; there'd be too much profanity for the Food Network."

Favorite customers. "Our local clientele, the East Villagers as an aggregate whole and all the cooks that support us. I always want to rate restaurants, like movies get rated—PG-13; NC-17. We'd get an adult rating —an R, which means no babies, no one who's going to complain about the music, no special requests."

Advice to future cooks. "You're better off peeling potatoes at a great kitchen than working saucier at a really mediocre place."

Published June 2006
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