David Chang: A Force for Good or Evil? Discuss.


Scarcely a week goes by without news of David Chang popping up somewhere in the food blogosphere, particularly during those weeks when he talks shit about other chefs and publishes a cookbook. We at FiTR, which is a pork bun’s throw from the Momo principality, got to musing about the Unstoppable One’s recent antics, and then decided to write it all down on IM. Here, in slightly edited form, is what we were thinking.

SD (Sarah DiGregorio): I’m curious about what you guys think about Chang calling out SF chefs for supposedly just serving figs on plates. It seemed gratuitous to me — though it certainly got him attention, which was probably the goal in the first place. Frankly, I find his look-at-me-don’t-fucking-look-at-me antics exhausting. Also, a precocious four-year-old can use the word “fucking.”

RS (Robert Sietsema): I think, with the S.F. thing, he’s just doing a Cutlets. By which I mean, trying to grab the spotlight because he can. It’s ridiculous what he said — the food in Frisco is every bit as good as New York food. For Pete’s sake, they have control of the artichoke supply!

RM (Rebecca Marx): At this point, Chang has to know that anything he says will be dutifully drooled over and dissected by people like us who read food blogs all day. He could have berated SF chefs for cooking babies and the reaction wouldn’t have been all that different. I think he loves the attention even though he claims to be so over it: at the Bourdain talk, he was clearly having a ball. He’s like the Victorian in the low-cut dress, clothing his principals in a somewhat contradictory fashion.

RS: That’s right. His whole schtick early on was to eschew publicity and act like he was a corn-pone eatin’ guy from the back 40, but he’s been molded by the relentless publicity machine into a prima donna of sorts. But also keep in mind he’s our boy–the downtown chef who most represents us as far as food attitudes go. He grew up with us. Like it or not, he’s our fearless leader.

SD: In what sense does he represent us? I’m just curious.

RS: Good Q. To me, at least, as both a former East Villager and a boho New Yorker, he’s the guy who most represents for the neighborhood. At least until recently, he kept his restaurants local, hands-on, and humorous. He was never afraid to take chances. He grabbed the zeitgeist and wrung its neck. His artificially inseminated empire started and flourished among us. Heck, he’s the only name chef that serves lunch within walking distance of the Voice offices.

SD: Nicely put. I agree with regard to his food–it represents the East Village at its very best. I’ve never eaten anything at any of his restaurants that I didn’t love and that’s the most important thing. But do you find that the disaffected image he so carefully cultivates distracts from his food? Look, he’s a young, rich, successful, wildly talented chef. Why does he feel the need to call gratuitous bullshit on others, just to get even more press attention than he already has?

RM: I think he’s kind of like the restaurant world’s version of Judd Apatow or Mad Men — he went from being an underdog to a critical darling to a juggernaut, courting a predictable backlash in the process. I think a lot of his food is solidly brilliant, and he has worked extremely hard for his success. I have a lot of respect for that, but could do without the knee-jerk adulation/obsession that seems to greet everything he does. It’s like every time Momo Milk Bar changes its ice cream flavors, angels pause to weep.

SD: I think angels are currently weeping over that stuffing flavor you told
me about.

RM: Well, I certainly did. Some flavors, it must be said, just don’t translate well to semi-frozen dairy products!

RS: I really haven’t liked many of his flavors I’ve tried, starting with the bizarre salty pistachio. What I admire him for is that he keeps at it relentlessly.

SD: I loved that pistachio!

RM: I too loved the pistachio, but have found the rest of the flavors to be hit or miss. Just because you can turn it into ice cream doesn’t mean you should, though I also admire the fact that he — and Christina Tosi — at least try to push the boundaries.

RS: Yuck! Count me out on this pistachio soft serve love fest. It was hyper-salty without a trace of sweetness. I’ve liked other flavors, though, like the Orange Julius-type thingee.

At this point, as the conversation devolved further into fervent proclamations of love for the Milk Bar’s various offerings, we realized we’d been sucked into the same Changian vortex that has claimed numerous other otherwise rational adults and threw up our collective hands. David Chang has us exactly where he wants us: stripped of skepticism, in thrall to his food, and ready for another helping, regardless of what he says about San Franciscans and figs.