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David Chang on building Momofuku, raising restaurant wages, and exploring vegan cooking

This Bud's For Burgers: Chef David Chang And Budweiser Set Out In Search Of America's Best Burger Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Budweiser

"Really good cooks never learn how to be great chefs. The road is littered with bodies and bodies of great, great cooks who could never become great chefs. Cooking is about failure — over and over and over again. ... For me, the right amount of talent is: barely enough." — David Chang

David Chang is one of the most successful restaurateurs in America: His Momofuku restaurant group has become a sprawling empire with locations all over the world, a series of successful cookbooks, and even its own R&D kitchen. Chang has also been behind some of the biggest food trends in recent decades: He's the one who put ramen on your corner, pork belly in every fancy restaurant, and bagel bombs in your coffee shop.

Chang is also just a witty, insightful, profane quote machine, and you can listen to our discussion by subscribing to my podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud. Here is — excuse the pun — a small taste of the topics we touched on:

  • How Chang hired his first chefs at a time when no one wanted to work for him
  • The reason spending even two weeks more in one of New York City's best restaurants might have ruined his career
  • Why Chang is skeptical that big farms can raise animals humanely
  • On why aging cooks are like aging athletes. "Your body breaks down. There's no way I can do what I did when I was in my early 20s," Chang says.
  • His hilarious story of going to a wedding where some vegetarians insisted on eating asparagus from Peru even though the main course was local lobster. "I told them: What the fuck are you guys doing? There's no carbon footprint, and yet you refuse to eat this," he says. "To me, it doesn't make any sense."
  • The reason Chang's R&D lab is entirely vegan even though his restaurants are temples for carnivores
  • On the fact that Chang has up to 30 minutes every day where he doesn't want to do his job. "I think it's a misconception to say if you love what you do, you love it all the time," he says. "That's fucking a total lie."
  • Why Chang, though liberal, fears the unintended consequences of New York raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. "The wages are really going to cut into the margins. And I think the next two years are going to be very telling about the future of the culinary industry," he says.
  • Why chickpeas are a flavor "goldmine"
  • How Korean nuns made the best potato chips Chang ever tasted. "It's like the best Pringle you've ever had; they slice these potatoes, then wash them thoroughly to wash the starch out, and then these old ladies ... put the slice of potato on the roof, letting them bake out in the sun. And then when you fry it — it's the craziest thing, I can't even describe to you. And that's what all of their food is like."
  • How an advanced logic class Chang took in college has helped him run his restaurant

For more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, US Sen. Cory Booker, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.