F&W Game Changers: Momofuku's Consumer Packaged Goods

The restaurant group making pantry essentials that expand the notion of “American” cuisine.

Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

When the pandemic forced restaurants to shut down nationwide in 2020, Momofuku, like many other restaurant groups, leaned into their social media as a way to stay in touch with diners. But a deeper look into engagement illuminated an interesting fact about the company's reach. "During the pandemic, we learned that 80% of our followers don't live in cities where we have restaurants," says Marguerite Mariscal, CEO of Momofuku.

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Founded by chef David Chang in 2004, Momofuku restaurant group has opened 20 restaurants in 15 years, including Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssäm Bar in New York City and Majordōmo in Los Angeles, yet it's likely that the majority of their followers have never experienced a meal at one of their restaurants. This realization led the company to start thinking about how to bring the Momofuku experience to these diners. The answer? Consumer goods that elevate the idea of what basic pantry items can be.

Later in 2020, Momofuku launched a line of consumer goods including seasoned salts, soy sauce, tamari, and chili crunch all emblazoned with the company's familiar peach logo. The pandemic created a surge in spending on consumer packaged goods, estimated at $1.53 trillion in 2020 (up by 9.4% from 2019), so Momofuku launched at just the right moment. Their products bridge the gap between home cooking and restaurant cooking, offering home cooks pantry items that are designed to make cooking easier and more exciting.

"Our north star is: How do we give home cooks access to our products and make it easier?" says JJ Basil, Momofuku's vice president of product and concept innovation. The quality of these products is the same as what the company uses in its restaurants but simplified, or, as Basil said, "a compression of steps."

We wanted to leverage the 17 years of restaurant experience and give it to home cooks.

Take, for example, the seasoned salts in flavors like Spicy, Tingly, and Savory, made of high-octane flavorings like seaweed, dried garlic, and pepper. The salts are designed to create a depth of flavor in your dishes quickly, adding earthiness to soups or sauces, or a bit of spice and umami when sprinkled on a chicken before it's roasted. "We wanted to leverage the 17 years of restaurant experience and give it to home cooks," Mariscal says.

The company is also considering what Mariscal calls "the American pantry," and what's included or excluded, and how to complicate that narrative. "In America, you're seeing an expansion of the understanding of regionality in different foods and even in restaurants, so why can't we explore that same variety in grocery?" Chile crisps, tamari, and soy sauce show up in many American households, and it's beyond time to start thinking of them — and ingredients from other cultures — as part of American food. "We want to expand the amount of choices home cooks have."

That idea also translates to how Momofuku intends these products to be used. The Black Truffle Chili Crunch can be used as a spicy pizza condiment or in building a stir-fry, and the tamari and soy sauces have uses across many types of cuisines, adding depth. "At Momofuku, we don't believe in rigid systems, and that's always how I tell people to cook," Basil says. He has seen customers use seasoned salts in ragùs and Bolognese, in dredges for fried chicken, in curries. "It confirmed our suspicions that you can use these tools in any cuisine you want."

In the future, home cooks can look forward to Momofuku continuing to add products to their line. They recently released a rice vinegar, as well as noodle kits that match the flavors of some of Momofuku Noodle Bar's most popular dishes, like the ginger scallion noodles and chilled spicy noodles, to provide even more of a Momofuku experience without having to be in a restaurant. "We're really trying to close the gap and reduce the space between what you get at our restaurant and what you can make at home," Mariscal says.

Providing the tools to make whatever you want at home feels like a core component of these products, but Basil says he ultimately wants home cooks to embrace the versatility of these products and experiment in their kitchen. "You'll be a stronger home cook the more you try," he says. That experimentation is what makes cooking such a beautiful process. "These products are meant to make your home cooking more fun and more joyous."

Meet the 2022 Food & Wine Game Changers

Alexis Nikole Nelson | Bento Box | Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar | Dwyane Wade | Ghetto Gastro | Jenny Dorsey | Momofuku Packaged Goods | No & Low | OXO | Prime Roots | Patagonia Provisions | Sanzo | Stephen Satterfield | World Central Kitchen | Yannick Benjamin

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