First published on 13 Jul 2012. Updated on 5 Dec 2012.
He’s the owner of a clutch of incredibly successful Manhattan restaurants – Momofuku Ko, Milk Bar, Má Pêche, Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar. He’s one of the best-known food faces in America. He’s appeared on David Simon’s Treme. Every magazine from Vogue to Vanity Fair to The New Yorker to New York has featured him in their pages. (The latter called him "Dave 'fuck it Chang" while The New York Times described him as a "pork-happy, pickle-loving individualist".). He has his own quarterly journal, Lucky Peach. And he’s the goddamn face of Japanese high-street brand, Uniqlo.
So where do you take a chef of this ilk when he’s being interviewed? You take him to the pub, we say. There’s a well-fed cockatoo strutting along the bar at the Friend in Hand
, fanning its sulphur crest and cracking lemon seeds with its gnarly little beak. Chang’s never seen one before. Nor has he seen properly cold beer taps. He can’t believe they’re frozen over and keeps running his hands over the lines, mesmerised. And despite our best efforts to get him to drink a schooner of sweet, sweet Old, he sticks to Pure Blondes. “They’re just like Bud Lite.”
He took a big step opening in Sydney – his first cross-continental venture. It's not like he’s an unknown entity in Australia. He’s been visiting for years, appearing at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and Sydney’s Crave where his style of high-low-culture-clashing-Asian-but-not-really food packs out lecture theatres in both cities. But doing a restaurant here, and in a casino? Big call.
“Part of it was my weirdness of being challenged,” he says. “I wanted to disprove the notion that you couldn’t open a great restaurant in a casino.” That, and the casino gave him the opportunity to have a really beautiful, spacious kitchen – something he’d never have in New York.
And so, against all odds and cries of “what the hell sort of restaurant can David Chang open in Sydney? We’re the land of mod-Asian” he opened Seiobo. And we find ourselves sitting on a couple of ratty barstools, taking in the afternoon sun talking shop and murdering cold schooners in the slummiest bit of Glebe. In fact, he's settled in so well, you'd never know he was merely an AC/DC-loving American with a big crush on our sunburnt country.
Chang's love of Australia is not borne of a deep appreciation of the Opera House. He didn’t have a life- changing moment on the Harbour Bridge. He’s never hugged a koala and he doesn’t own a Jenny Kee jumper. No, more than anything, Chang loves Golden Century at 2am. And he loves it for reasons you may not. “People think the service at Golden Century is terrible – I think it’s fucking amazing. If you don’t know how to order there, they are going to order for you, and they are going to be like, 'If you don’t belong here, get the fuck out!'” When he likes something, he really likes it.
It’s this kind of blinkered dedication to doing whatever-the-hell he wants to do that makes David Chang and Momofuku such a success. It’s also inspired an entirely new genre of restaurant. Not that Chang will see it that way. He’s incredibly adept at ducking compliments, praise or taking responsibility for anything good. His MO is good, better, best… fuck it. “If you start thinking about how food can change on a large level like that, it’s massive. And I don’t think you can really dwell on that too much. Otherwise you are going to spin off the fucking planet.”
View the Time Out Food Awards 2012 winners