An Open Letter to David Chang
Let me begin by congratulating you on Majordomo and Majordomo Media. I’m particularly excited about the latter because it could mean the resurrection of a Lucky Peach-like platform that will once again make people stop in their tracks, take a step back (or a step forward), and think about the larger sociocultural narrative surrounding food.
My earliest memories of you were in my uni campus’ shared kitchen, eating instant ramen in front of my laptop reading an illegally acquired e-copy of Momofuku. Back then I didn’t understand what a noodle bar was, or who you and Peter Meehan were. The words, “post-millenial restaurant scene in America” meant nothing to me then, and I was still struggling to understand the difference between my soy sauces. The more I read about this Momofuku collective, the more I wanted in; this gang of rebels with no qualms about authenticity, tossing up delicious food for people that were lining up outside in the cold. I knew there was something truly special here.
And so, through the pages of the cookbook and with lots of obsessive googling, I traced Momofuku’s journey from Noodle Bar to Ssam, Ko and Milk Bar. I made the famous pork buns, the bo ssam with the amazing ginger scallion sauce that’s now a mainstay in my kitchen, and also tried my hand at the ramen unsuccessfully (I had never heard of katsuobushi, let alone knew how to pronounce it).
After you Dave, it was Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar whose recipes got me fired up and ready to go when the Milk Bar cookbook was out. My mum and I would spend days planning the components of a cake we were making from Milk Bar. The memory of cutting into my Momofuku carrot cake with liquid cheesecake, milk soak, and cake crumbs on my birthday is still a religious experience for me. Much like your relationship with your mum, I recreate a lot of my mother’s recipes from this cool taste memory we’ve developed from eating her food. She frets around a lot and complains when I haven’t done something perfectly, but that’s just how mums are.
What I’m trying to say Dave, is that Momofuku went from being this cool idea I read about ages ago, to becoming a way of life for me. I hoarded Lucky Peach magazines like rations before a storm and revered Peter Meehan and Chris Ying for the inspiring design and smart writing that featured in it. My copy of The Lucky Peach Cookbook is heavily earmarked, grease-stained and crammed with simple, brilliant recipes that changed the way I cook American Chinese food at home, and helped me become a better, less-wasteful cook.
Your family of Momofuku, an ever-growing tribe, uses food as a filter to drive a larger conversation around people, culture, and issues that truly matter. This unifying force is something that’s missing in the Indian landscape. We definitely need a David Chang to charge into the scene here and tinker with indigenous Indian produce in a way only you can. Much like your friend Rene does for Noma in Mexico, India too offers up some incredible produce like Jamun, Rose Apples, berries you’ve never even heard of, all that I’m sure you’ll really enjoy cooking with. But more importantly Dave, what we need here is a cultural critic like you-someone young and approachable to highlight issues similar to what you touch on in Ugly Delicious-the idea of authenticity as the enemy, gender and identity, lesser-known cuisines and cultures, and to expand the conversation around food by talking about chefs in a similar vein as literary critics talk about authors.
Consider this Dave-Indian food that’s truly representative of India has only just blown up in the west, and if you think that’s good, let me tell you, they’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s so much more underneath- gourds, beans, leafy greens, berries, flowers- hell, we were eating root to leaf and nose to tail before anyone else was. I’d like to extend an invitation to you David Chang, to come visit our country, eat chaat with the same fervency as you would tacos and walk down the streets of Grant Road market with Chef Thomas of The Bombay Canteen. The sights and sounds of India that will greet you, shall change you forever.