The Momofuku and Majordomo chef also credits millennials with changing the restaurant industry's culture.
In two recent interviews, one with Recode moderated by Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Klundt, and another on his podcast ‘The David Chang Show,’ which featured New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner, David Chang addressed revelations of misconduct by Mario Batali, how accused chefs can redeem themselves (if at all), and how the industry as a whole can move forward. Here are the three biggest takeaways from what Chang had to say:
On professionalizing the restaurant industry
Chang reveals that he set strict boundaries and codes of conduct for his employees: They must take a “non-negotiable” one-hour break, they are only allowed one drink at the end of their shift, and that he follows up with anyone who hasn’t taken their vacation days. He calls this process “professionalizing” an industry that is infamous for its freewheeling, even lax, mentality toward more traditional aspects of a workplace environment.
In fact, Chang admits that he once thought professionalizing restaurants would make food “less delicious.”
“I was 100 percent wrong,” he says.
On #MeToo and Mario Batali
Chang credits millennials for helping change the way his restaurants are run. He found that the millennial generation was “allergic” to the environment restaurants once cultivated—toxic, stressful, even dangerous. So he started to meet with other chefs to figure out how they could improve their workplaces.
“Just because we came up under this brutish system doesn’t mean we can justify it moving forward,” he says. “It’s been on our minds for a long time.”
However, when it comes to allegations against one of his peers, Mario Batali, Chang is almost lost for words.
“It’s almost something I don’t know how to comprehend,” he admits. “I don’t know if we would be in business today without Mario’s support. I feel obligated to recognize that…but the only thing I think I can do is be a best-in-class business with the most thoughtful, forward-thinking culture.”
Later, Helen Rosner, the New Yorker’s food correspondent, stopped by Chang’s podcast to discuss how the industry can move forward from these scandals. Her blunt answer? We shouldn’t.
“It’s an epidemic in the restaurant world,” she says. “I don’t think I’m ready to say ‘what happens next,’ because I don’t think we’ve sufficiently acknowledged as a culture that this is like cancer in the bone.”
Rosner doesn’t like the idea of a comeback for any of the accused chefs, but also recognizes that they can’t just “fade away.” Chang asks what any of them can do to redeem themselves or restore their reputations and while the question proves tricky to negotiate, Rosner does have one suggestion.
“I hope that high profile chefs are listening to this, I don’t know how to say this any louder,” she says. “Nobody has made a giant donation to some kind of organization that can help stop this…That would go farther than literally anything.”
On whether or not people should eat at restaurants run by alleged abusers
“You should all ask yourself this before you go eat something. Where did it come from? How was it raised? Don’t just put it blindly in your mouth," advises Chang.
Because ethics are increasingly important in the industry, Chang points out that a restaurant could do everything right—treat it’s products with care and source ingredients responsibly—except “take care of their employees,” and people will stop sending their business to the restaurant.
Meanwhile, on the podcast, Rosner reveals that she’s spoken to some restaurant employees who say that restaurants with a figurehead who has been forced out because of accusations of misconduct are still packed every night because “people don’t care,” while there are others which are “taking the hit.”
Is there a right or wrong action to take? Chang thinks there probably isn’t. What’s most important is to keep talking about these issues, every chance we get.
“At the bare minimum, find a way to talk about it,” he says. “Everyone is so fucking scared to talk about it.”