David Chang - Momofuku Ssäm Bar 39
David Chang - Momofuku Ssäm Bar 40
David Chang 1
David Chang - Momofuku Ssäm Bar 43
David Chang - Momofuku Ssäm Bar 41
David Chang - Má Pêche 13
David Chang - Momofuku Ko 26
David Chang - Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown 22
David Chang - Momofuku Seiobo 44
David Chang - Momofuku Noodle Bar 31
David Chang - Momofuku Noodle Bar 32
David Chang - Momofuku Seiobo 45
David Chang - Momofuku Ssäm Bar 37
David Chang - Momofuku Ko 27
David Chang - Má Pêche 18
“Seek simplicity but distrust it.”
     - Alfred North Whitehead

Simplicity seems as much a thing at which we arrive as one for which we seek, often at the end of a long road littered with false turns. A word deceptive in terms of what lies behind it, simplicity can be said to hang in the exotic and eclectic atmosphere of
David Chang’s creative hothouses, a charm blessing the furious toil in his kitchens and the incendiary food they send searing into culinary headlines.

The son of first generation Korean immigrants, Chang is reported to have said that he left college looking for a vocation with honour, a deep love of Korean soul food informing his decision to become a chef.

His culinary resume reveals an extraordinary breadth of influences, classical French training at the French Culinary Institute and Café Boulud - under renowned haute practitioner Andrew Carmellini - sandwiched around an eight month stint cooking in and, more importantly, eating his way around Japan. The contrasts between these two famously purist culinary cultures and what his kitchens produce shine a light on his untutored genius. Simply taking what he likes from where he likes leads to the most unexpected delights, and saw him named Best Chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation in 2008 and GQ’s Chef of the Year in 2007.

He who seeks simplicity invariably encounters risk and the looming spectre of failure at one and the same time, David Chang’s first venture being no exception. A young fledging chef, in August 2004 Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village with a desire to serve great ramen and shredded pork at great value.

A crushingly muted reaction to the tiny locale having freed him from the fear of failure, Chang threw all caution to wind, letting his culinary imagination run wild. Using some of the haute cuisine techniques he had picked up working at Café Boulud, Mercer Kitchen and Craft, Chang made food of refreshing simplicity and audacious creativity, its ramen bass note being rearranged around a series of stunning riffs on seasonal produce. Momofuku was transformed at a dizzying pace, its fame borne on the wings of what was to become a Chang signature - the instantly gratifying pork belly bun - and its name spread like wildfire through the city on the back of its popularity as an after-hours haunt for aspiring young chefs and foodies.

Ignoring the logical, but for him anything but simple, step of reproducing the dazzling success of Momofuku Noodle Bar in ever grander settings, Chang followed his instinctual aversion to creative complacency and the call of further creative exhilaration and opened Momofuku Ssäm Bar. With a name taken from the Korean word ssäm, which means “anything wrapped” and a bewilderingly simple concept - a cafeteria style Asian-burrito bar - that left even those in Chang’s ever-growing circle scratching their heads, Ssäm followed a, by now familiar, nail-biting trajectory.

Initially treated with something approaching suspicion, Ssäm’s fortunes changed through word of watering mouth amongst the thrusting young culinary community and Chang’s decision to once again give his experimental spirit free reign and create what he describes simply as delicious American food.

Serving a staple of rotisserie duck and traditional Korean Bo Ssäm pork cheek-by-succulent-jowl with a design-your-own menu that draws on a thrilling raw bar, classic mid-west fare such as country ham, and off cuts in a vibrantly casual atmosphere, Ssäm is number forty in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. Nominated in 2007 for a James Beard award as Best New Restaurant and laden with clusters of stars and recommendations from the famously exacting critics of New York and across the culinary world, Ssäm and its ultra-cool late night Bar Bar is now an iconic eatery for culinary insiders and savvy New Yorkers alike.

Simplicity, like a drug, dragged Chang to further and utterly sublime extremes. Chang’s third Momofuku venture Ko, meaning “son of”, launched his reputation into the stratosphere of the most richly diverse and demanding culinary city of the world. Only twelve guests can be seated at this tiny restaurant with a giant name, and then only at a bar that encircles the kitchen from which the chefs themselves serve the ten-to-sixteen course tasting menu of Chang’s expect-the-unexpected culinary meanderings through America, Asia and France.

Since Chang’s little box of tricks - bursting with a riot of startling flavours and textures - opened in March 2008, Ko has been awarded two coveted Michelin for four years running and is currently sixty fifth in the San Pelligrino rankings. What is perhaps more noteworthy is the staggering state of unquenchable demand in which this boutique restaurant seems to exist.

Since Ko, David Chang has again taken a typical change in direction, enlarging his vision with a series of outposts of the Momofuku Milk Bar concept, his unique take on a downtown bakery. Featuring such characteristically unpretentious left turns as the compost cookie and pretzel cake, there are now Milk Bars in the East Village, Midtown, the Upper West Side and Brooklyn.

Momofuku’s Milk Bar in Midtown, opening in April 2010, brought Má Pêche with it. With a name meaning “mother peach”, it focuses exquisitely on French Vietnamese cuisine, an already enticing mix of classicism and exoticism, and features the most expansive raw bar of the Momofuku venues and Beef 7 Ways - a traditional Vietnamese celebratory feast - as its sumptuous signature dish.

Earlier this month, the Momofuku circus, an emblem of the diversity and pioneering innovation of the New York that gave birth to it, arrived at one of the freshest frontiers in global cuisine - Sydney, Australia. Set in an intimate nook in the exclusive retail and eating complex at the rejuvenated Star Hotel & Casino,
Momofuku Seiobo promises an organic evolution of Chang’s ebullient and yet finely nuanced cuisine in the context of the seemingly unlimited natural bounty and gloriously multiplicity found in Sydney’s food culture.

With a project slated to open in Toronto next year, next to the Shangri-La Hotel, David Chang’s truly modern American cuisine is taking to the four winds.

Momofuku means “lucky peach” in Japanese, hence the modest fruit that hangs, ripe and eponymous, above every one of David Chang’s extraordinary restaurants. Its simplicity belies the winding journey through food and nomenclature on which Chang and his lucky peach have taken a spellbound dining public; wrapping them in tradition at Ssäm, bowing first to mother and son at Má Pêche and Ko, and now to Seiobo, the Japanese goddess of the west, whose symbol is the peach tree.

The often hidden tension between simplicity and the tortuous tangle behind it is the great playground in which David Chang lets his imagination free to frolic - a playground he named Momofuku for the simple delight of a peach. Even here, perhaps, can be seen the great complexity inherent in something even as simple as a name.

     - Benjamin Stewart

David Chang
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Gabriele Stabile

Momofuku Seiobo
Address:  80 Pyrmont Street
Sydney, NSW 2009
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Nick Scott

Momofuku Noodle Bar
Address:  171 1st Avenue
New York, 10003
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Noah Kalina

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Address:  207 2nd Avenue
New York, 10003
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Interior:  Noah Kalina
          Food:  Eunjean Song

Momofuku Ko
Address:  163  1st Avenue
New York, 10003
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Noah Kalina

Má Pêche
Address:  15 West 56th Street
New York, 10019
Tel:  212 757 5878
Website:  www.momofuku.com
Photo Credit:  Elizabeth Leitzell

Momofuku Milk Bar East Village
Address:  251 East 13th Street
New York, 10003
Website:  www.momofuku.com

Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown
Address:  15 West 56th Street
New York, 10019
Website:  www.momofuku.com

Photo Credit:  Elizabeth Leitzell

Momofuku Milk Bar Upper West Side
Address:  561 Columbus Avenue
New York, 10024
Website:  www.momofuku.com

Momofuku Milk Bar Brooklyn
Address:  382 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, 11211
Website:  www.momofuku.com
David Chang - Momofuku Seiobo