One chef more than any other is on my radar during my time in New York: David Chang. As regular readers will know I had great success with his Bo Ssam recipe for New Year, and his blend of Japanese, Korean, Italian and French intrigued me, so I wanted to pay homage. Top of the list of his places to try was Momofuku, his flagship restaurant with - I think - at least one Michelin star. To make a reservation you have to log in to his website, giving your email address and so on, then give your credit card details AND make sure to be online at 10am Monday morning New York time to bag a seat at the 14-seater counter one week hence, supposedly because he sells out virtually instantly.
Bit like trying to set up an interview with Mariah Carey crossed with sorting something out via internet banking.
I jumped through all these hoops, and got myself a Saturday lunch spot with no problem.
Chang has a no-photography policy, which is fair enough. Everyone knows them's the rules before they eat there. Took a sneaky one, nonetheless. Maverick hip-shooter that I am.
There is but one menu served, a lengthy, costly tasting menu. It included the now classic shaved foie gras, lychee and Riesling jelly (excellent), a gruyere and Comte consommé (slightly sick-making), burned Brussel Sprouts (eh?), a super oyster (but singular), a foamed poached egg (striking, but also frightful) among numerous other treats and trials. I'll spare you the rest of the course-by-course details, but my conclusion is this: this was tasty, firework food. Massive flavours, simple, crude, very sweet, very fatty. Basically your standard American flavours: sugar and bacon, grilled, burned aromas etc. all in a variety of entertaining forms. If you like Burger King, you'll probably find something to cling to here.
It was pretty much the same story at Ma Peche (can't be bothered with all the accents), Chang's new Midtown place. Almost as difficult to get a reservation, even more snooty, too-cool-for-school staff, slightly less refined, less memorable food. Here's a terrible photo:
I have to say, on a Saturday night the place was buzzing. You really felt you were at the centre of the culinary universe, which seems to be one of Chang's great skills/confidence tricks as a restaurateur. And another blurry shot:
New York restaurant goers never quite feel they've got their money's worth unless they've been treated like naughty children, it seems, and so, at Ma Peche, when you try to order dessert, you are told instead that you may have some cheese. You point out that you walked past a well stocked 'Milk Bar' at the entrance, with all manner of tarts and cookies.
But your request for some of these is refused. Well, you can keep your artisanal cheese Mr Chang.
I persisted with my Chang-athon, now seriously addicted to his brazen flavours, and headed for the original Milk Bar on the Lower East Side to try the 'iconic' steamed pork bun.
Utterly fabulous. God I wish there was a place serving these near me. Although I'd be dead of heart failure within six months. (And, I have to say, Ippudo's were better):
I don't mean to sound snide about Chang (well, not too much). He's (re-)introduced us to some great new flavours (most notably kimchi puree, cereal milk, Korean fermented soy bean paste, and Maggi seasoning), and great new combinations. His crack pie is indeed addictive (though his truffle things are even better). You've got to admire too how he's generated his own myth, albeit another riff from that old 'cooking as the new rock and roll' Anthony Bourdain playbook where working in a kitchen is pitched just below a tour of duty in Helmandland in the range of ultimate macho endeavours.
So, that's all great. Hats off to the man, and thanks for some wonderful food.
Just don't ever even think of mentioning Chang's name in the same breath as Redzepi, or Narisawa, Aizpitarte, Adoniz or any other young chef with any subtlety, proper culinary vision or skill.