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In the Kitchen with David Chang

In the Kitchen with David Chang

David Chang's Pork Belly Bun (photo by Creative Commons user arnold | inuyaki)

Chicago Tribune

‘Regular dude’ chef is not afraid to mix it up, and call it simple American food.

Outside of New York’s five boroughs and the foodie bloggerati (most of America, let’s just say), the name David Chang rings few bells. He seems to prefer it this way. Barrels of ink already have been spilled about Momofuku, Chang’s five Manhattan restaurants that have been fawningly written up in glossy magazines, racked up awards — James Beards and Michelin stars — and garnered the culinary street cred that publicists trip over themselves for.

Chang — a 32-year-old from Virginia, trained in the noodle shops of Japan, honorary chef among the Lower East Side Cool — would rather this intense level of publicity go away so he could go back in the kitchen and cook. Here’s a man who loathes categorization — he’s not simply a Korean-American chef living in New York and serving high-end Asian-inspired food. He is (in his words) a “regular dude chef” who tries to serve “delicious American food.”

When Chang visited our newspaper kitchen recently, he cooked in a blinding whir, bypassing chitchat and letting the cookware clang do the talking. Ingredients were chopped with a reckless yet efficient abandon. This tempo probably was picked up from the early days of Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, when it was Chang and one other person running the restaurant.

“It’s always the way I’ve been taught from everyone I’ve worked for,” he said. “Move your (behind). Slow and sloppy is bad. Fast and efficient is good.”

So I asked: “Can I ask a few questions while you cook?”

His reply: “Can you catch up?”

A dish such as his Fuji apple salad, a subtle interplay of Eastern and Western influences centered on just four main ingredients, demonstrated that efficiency.

The salad idea began as a challenge to pair kimchi and apples. Kimchi describes many Korean side dishes, but it is often associated with spicy fermented Napa cabbage. Chang tried pickling apples, but that resulted in a mealy texture. He then got the idea of pureeing the kimchi and tossing it with wedged apples. “If you puree kimchi, people think it’s salsa,” said Chang, the apples flying in the air with a flick of the bowl. “People aren’t suspect when you serve it.” The puree adds vivid colors and prevents the apple from oxidizing and turning brown.