By One Ring Zero

About this Excerpt:
The Recipe Project (a gift book and CD package) features 10 recipes by celebrity chefs transformed—word for word—into singable, danceable, riotously delightful songs. Think: 100 Sweet Tomatoes by Mario Batali sung as whimsical Italian melody. Or Creamless Creamed Corn by Tom Colicchio sung as a classic rock tune.

The book itself contains recipes by the same chefs (Mario Batali, David Chang, Michael Symon, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Tom Colicchio and more) as well interviews with the culinary stars, restaurant playlists, and essays by acclaimed food writers such as Melissa Clark, JJ Goode, Christine Muhlke, Michael Harlan Turkell John T. Edge. This excerpt is an interview with David Chang, and the book is available for sale in our online store.

David Chang
is the head chef and co-owner of multiple Manhattan mainstays, namely Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and Má Pêche. Famous for his pork buns and soft serve ice cream, Chang has a few house rules. One, if you want fortune cookies or karaoke, try down the street. Any street. Two, he takes no reservations, except for parties of six who order a whole pork belly or two triple-fried Korean chickens. And three, Pavement is the world’s greatest band. He is the author of the Momofuku cookbook and has appeared in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2010.

David Chang
Fried Chicken, David Bowie, and Girlfriends Who Like Desperate Housewives

TRP: Let’s say you weren’t a famous chef—how many months of your life could you lose to music?

DC: I have almost 2 years worth of continuous music on my computer. A lot of it comes from the restaurant—managers from bands come in and they’re like, “Oh you’re playing the band I represent!” and slide me some CDs. So my collection is a massive weird mix of stuff.

TRP: And you make your own playlists, right? How’d you come up with the bizarre mix of Nina Simone and Smokey Robinson for Má Pêche, your newest place in midtown Manhattan?

DC: We started playing music for cooks, not the customers! At Noodle Bar, we used to blast it just to keep awake. Really loud music is great to cook to, but it’s weird because customers notice it, and pay more attention to the music than the food.

TRP: What type of music do you find most compatible with eating?

DC: Non-pop. You can play Yo La Tengo and 99 percent of the people have no idea who’s singing, but it sounds good, so they’re able to ignore it and focus on the food. As for us—the chefs—we usually go all night, so we need an eight or nine-hour-long playlist. I’m not gonna say we’ve exhausted the music industry, but there’s very little out there that we haven’t listened to.

TRP: You’ve got a kind of rock ‘n roll crowd—when bands come into the restaurant, do you make a point to play their music?

DC: No! No no no, I make sure we don’t play their music while they’re there, it’s embarrassing. And my other rule—we don’t bother people. As wait staff, we have aspiring musicians and actors, and I will kill them if they approach anybody.

TRP: Which brings us to your temper. What’s the worst temper tantrum you’ve ever thrown?

DC: I should be in jail. They’re all bad. I literally black out in rage. It’s like temporary insanity. It’s bad for my health, so I haven’t gotten mad—that mad—in a long time. Especially now that I’m rarely working service. Service is what kills me. On my feet, on the line. And after six years I just can’t do the stress and perfectionism. I just want to make stuff.

TRP: Let’s get pissed off now. What the fuck is wrong with food in America?

DC: With food, I love the very things I hate. Take the whole San Francisco thing. Rustic cuisine is great—it’s one of my favorite foods. But when everyone’s doing it, it’s boring. Also, comfort food. I think it’s great if some restaurants do it, but again, if every restaurant’s serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes and biscuits, it’s boring. I call that staff meal-ization. My chefs will go out to a restaurant and think, “This is our fuckin’ staff meal! This is what we cook ourselves, between shifts!” I hate that sort of dumbing down of the culinary world.

TRP: Do you think the same thing is happening with music—it’s getting dumbed down?

DC: I’m sort of disenchanted with the current music scene. For example, someone just told me, “I love Kings of Leon.” I was, like (dumbfounded expression). I’m not a musician, but I feel like the musicianship in music has disappeared. The artistry. I hate Top 40. Then again, music is complicated. It’s so easy to slam Britney Spears and stuff. Sometimes it takes me years to appreciate something. I wasn’t a huge Eminem fan until I actually listened to his stuff, and I was, like, wow—he’s extraordinarily talented.

TRP: What about you—how do you compose your dishes? Some are so original, like cereal milk—toasted cornflakes steeped in milk, then strained—the milk is left with just a hint of salty sweet. How’d you come up with that?

DC: Right now, we have a lab where I spend most of my time. We want simple. Clear. We want a dish where people are like, “Fuck! Why didn’t I do that? It’s so easy!” As a team, we’ve reached a point of saturation, not so different with music, where it’s like . . . what do you do when everything’s been done? So we’re focusing on things like rice. How can we get a better understanding of, say, a rice noodle, by making it from scratch without a stabilizer and high-tech machinery? By putting a creative limit or ceiling on what we can do, it forces us to really push the envelope.