David Chang: How to Create a Dining Empire

David Chang—chef, entrepreneur, and Momofuku mastermind—talks with GQ Editor-at-Large Michael Hainey about how he created his ramen and pork bun empire, and what inspires him to continue innovating. Powered by Montblanc

Released on 7/21/2015

Credits

Starring: David Chang and Michael Hainey

Transcript

00:00
(upbeat electronic music)
00:12
So Dave, I'm gonna just get you going
00:14
because it doesn't take much to get you going.
00:17
But I remember once we were having dinner and you said
00:19
something to me, the effect of
00:21
about all your accomplishments.
00:23
And you said, My DNA has nothing to do with my success.
00:29
What do you mean by that?
00:30
'Cause you look at a guy like you,
00:31
and everyone feels like it comes pretty naturally to you.
00:37
I feel like this is
00:38
I'm sitting with my shrink right now, this is--
00:40
(laughter)
00:41
(laughs) Well, I meant that, and I still mean this,
00:44
and I tell people this at Momofuku that
00:47
we're successful not because we're the most well-funded,
00:50
the best cooks, the most intelligent, the most anything,
00:54
in fact, I like to think of myself
00:56
as below average just across the board.
00:59
But, we're going to find a way to win
01:02
and it doesn't matter how talented you are,
01:05
if you're faster than me I'm still gonna win the race.
01:07
You're gonna quit before I ever do.
01:09
And it's just sort of being tenacious
01:11
and that's sort of how I view all of the success.
01:14
It has nothing to do with natural talent or ability,
01:17
it's just I want it more than anyone else.
01:20
You think you can out-work anyone.
01:21
Yes.
01:22
Out-hussle.
01:23
I will never, I just won't break.
01:25
(laughs) You know?
01:26
I mean, there's moments when I wanna break
01:27
but I just won't
01:30
and then I also realize, it's not just me
01:31
it's everyone else and it's not a singular effort.
01:34
There's no such thing
01:35
and when can get a group of people to do that,
01:38
then it's really, all the achievements and all the awards,
01:41
it's always to me been a team win.
01:44
When you talk about no one's gonna out-work you,
01:46
but one of the things I've always thought about with men
01:49
is you have...
01:50
There's basically two qualities you can always control,
01:55
that you're given and those are time and energy
01:58
and it's really your success depends on
02:00
how you harness those, right?
02:03
I mean, where do you find...
02:05
I mean the energy, it's clear
02:07
you've got this sort of bottomless reservoir of energy
02:10
but where do you find the time to create and to invent
02:15
what really has been such a transformative cuisine?
02:20
The idea of invention I think is
02:22
learning to be open to the fact that
02:25
anything could be inspiration.
02:29
Or, not having a preconceived notion
02:31
that something can't be anything.
02:33
For instance, I'm really excited
02:35
about doing lunchboxes right now
02:37
because it's such a bad idea.
02:39
I hate--
02:40
(laughter)
02:42
I tend to find my ideas where most people think it's trash
02:45
and I want to know that, is it a bad idea
02:48
because culturally people believe it's a bad idea,
02:50
or is it inherently a bad idea?
02:53
And if it's culturally a bad idea,
02:56
or society says it's a bad idea,
02:57
I tend to focus on that quite a bit more.
03:01
I mean sounds ridiculous for food and ideas,
03:02
but it's like, well, nobody here
03:04
wants to focus on a lunchbox.
03:06
But the reality here is everyone eats lunch.
03:08
Most people don't eat lunch in a restaurant every day.
03:11
Why wouldn't you want to make this as fantastic as possible?
03:15
But when you look at that, I mean again, jokes aside
03:18
you really see the challenge in that
03:20
and looking at something that you've come across
03:22
in your explorations and why not see if...
03:25
I mean, what I can do with ramen noodles.
03:28
I mean, you had that in your DNA all along, haven't you?
03:33
Yeah, I guess.
03:34
It was also just putting constraints on yourself.
03:37
I think it's...
03:37
I'm not someone that's good enough
03:39
to just work with any idea or like,
03:44
I'm not good enough to, if I'm an artist,
03:46
to work with any color out there.
03:48
I'm best when I have to work against something.
03:52
Right.
03:53
And a lot of it's imagined
03:56
but whether it's ramen or doing anything
03:59
I need to find a way to work this idea
04:01
against something that I believe is
04:05
like working against me, more or less.
04:07
Do you have to put a chip on your shoulder?
04:09
Do you need some sort of--
04:10
(laughs) Yes.
04:11
I'm at my best when I'm pretty focused and not...
04:17
Most people would characterize me
04:18
as being pretty angry a lot of the time (laughs)
04:20
(laughter)
04:23
It's hard to believe 'cause whenever you meet Dave,
04:25
he seems like the happiest guy in the world, but...
04:28
I always think of the GQ story Alan Richman wrote about you.
04:31
There's a scene in there, we talk about anger, where...
04:33
Do you want to tell people what Korean cockroaches are?
04:35
(laughs) Korean termites.
04:36
Termites.
04:37
So, younger when...
04:40
(laughs) Okay.
04:41
For a awhile, when I was younger,
04:44
opening the restaurants, I would punch walls.
04:46
Or just destroy things, like a desk, a metal desk.
04:51
(laughs)
04:51
It's not easy to destroy a metal desk.
04:53
And I just, it sounds childish and stupid now,
04:57
but the reality is, I didn't know how to express myself.
05:01
I'm not a manager of people and wasn't at the time
05:04
and that was the only way I knew how to do it
05:07
and it was the lowest hanging fruit and I knew...
05:10
Just because you know something
05:11
doesn't mean you actually do it.
05:12
So over the years, I was like, well,
05:15
there's gotta be a better way.
05:17
This is really dumb
05:18
and I'm trying to take a much more enlightened approach
05:21
but it's hard, sometimes I want to punch that wall. (laughs)
05:24
And those became the termites.
05:25
Yes, and there were quite a few of 'em those years.
05:27
(laughs)
05:27
I mean, things were very hard.
05:30
2004 to 2010, things are still hard now but
05:34
when you have everything invested in something,
05:36
literally everything invested,
05:38
and I was telling a sous chef recently
05:40
'cause he wanted to put a dish on the menu
05:41
and you know, I was like,
05:43
Would you do this idea if you had everything on the line?
05:46
Like your family's savings were on the line,
05:49
what kind of dish would you make?
05:51
[Michael] Right.
05:52
I don't think you'd be making this dish
05:53
that you're selling me right now.
05:55
It would be something a lot more thoughtful,
05:57
a lot more delicious.
06:01
And I was like, just...
06:02
Empathy is such a huge...
06:04
That's probably the most important thing
06:05
to making a great dish.
06:07
That's I think another thing that I'm curious with you
06:10
is you always seem to (mumbles)
06:12
not just exploring new boundaries
06:13
but then I think, everyone around you
06:16
you're always pushing them
06:18
to go into awkward, unexplored places, right?
06:22
Yes. (laughs)
06:23
Myself as well.
06:24
[Michael] Yeah.
06:25
I tend to look at life right now
06:26
as one of those grade school dances
06:27
when you're first discovering sexuality
06:31
and the year before you're like,
06:32
Oh, girls are gross.
06:34
I would never want to talk to them.
06:36
And now you're like,
06:37
Well, maybe I should ask this girl out to dance.
06:38
[Michael] Right.
06:39
But you never do, because you're afraid
06:40
that you'll be rejected
06:42
and it's much better to be a wallflower.
06:44
And most people say no to it because of that nausea,
06:46
that feeling of total...
06:48
You just don't wanna be in that moment
06:50
'cause it just, it's so uncomfortable.
06:54
And I've learned to be attracted to that moment
06:57
'cause I found that that's when you're growing
06:59
and the worst thing that's gonna happen is,
07:01
they'll say no to you.
07:02
But just maybe they'll say yes.
07:04
More often than not, they'll say no to you
07:05
and you'll get rejected.
07:06
But I found that, rejection and failure
07:10
it's just something where I like to be in that moment of
07:14
just totally uncomfortable
07:16
and I feel like that's where we...
07:18
At our restaurants at least, that's our best work
07:20
is when we're in that moment where it's...
07:23
We feel like we're gonna throw up.
07:24
Right.
07:25
Yeah.
07:26
(laughter)
07:28
Sounds insane, I know.
07:29
Just don't throw up on my food.
07:31
(laughter)
07:32
I'm gonna use a word that a lot of men I think
07:35
are sort of nervous about ever articulating
07:37
but anyone who's been lucky enough
07:39
to be in those creative moments,
07:42
you're sort of alive and terrified at the same time,
07:44
but a word I'm gonna ask you about is fear.
07:47
Do you have fear?
07:48
Does fear hold you back in any way?
07:51
All the time.
07:54
I think it's fine to be scared.
07:56
[Michael] Mmm-hmm.
07:58
The worst kind of fear is the fear to not make a decision
08:01
and that's the fear that I am most scared of.
08:05
All the other fear is okay 'cause it's like...
08:07
Okay, it's telling you that things are around you
08:10
and you're feeling things
08:11
but when you're so panicked
08:13
and you're so afraid of something
08:14
to not make a decision, to be a wallflower
08:17
and to just watch things happen,
08:20
that is something I try to avoid, as much as possible.
08:23
Have there been moments where you've been frozen
08:25
and then you had to push through that?
08:28
Yeah, I mean...
08:29
I think that one of the things is,
08:32
I think 2012 to 2014
08:36
it's harder to have that momentum
08:39
when you've achieved success and to be that hungry
08:44
and it's hard because you might lose everything.
08:48
I've never been successful in my life until now
08:51
so I've never been a straight A student,
08:53
I've never known what it's like to like,
08:54
Oh my god, my parents, I got a B minus.
08:56
No, I've been a C plus student my entire life.
08:58
(laughs)
09:00
I don't know what that's like
09:00
to not constantly exceed expectations.
09:05
So, it's like that quote from The Wire:
09:10
You can't lose if you don't play the game.
09:12
[Michael] Right.
09:13
And that's sort of how I felt for two years is,
09:15
maybe if we don't do anything, we won't screw up.
09:20
And that was actually the worst decision we made.
09:22
I remember that we talked about this once,
09:23
and it's like, you almost equate that
09:26
to musicians sometimes,
09:28
when musicians start to play it safe
09:30
and they have their breakthrough moment
09:32
and then they fall back,
09:34
and I remember you once said something,
09:36
it's always stuck with me,
09:36
that creative moments happen in ten year spurts
09:40
and then you have to reassess everything, right?
09:43
Right.
09:44
Well, I mean (laughs)
09:46
I've been obsessed with trying to find
09:49
when I'm gonna be at my best
09:50
and I always thought for a cook,
09:52
it's like 27 to 32.
09:54
It really is to me.
09:55
If you look at the great chefs in the world,
09:56
at the time they did the best work,
09:59
it's right around that age.
10:00
That five year gap.
10:03
And I wanted to make sure I was in that moment
10:06
and I sacrificed everything to be in that moment.
10:08
But now I'm turning 38 this year
10:12
and I know I'm not in that moment anymore.
10:16
There's no way 'cause I knew...
10:18
I know too much.
10:20
And I think that timeframe,
10:22
you're just, you're so dumb
10:24
(laughter)
10:26
that anything seems possible.
10:28
You're so fucking dumb that you think you can do anything
10:32
and you know just enough how to actually do something
10:35
that it's that magically combination
10:37
of being just naive and hopeful and a dreamer enough
10:41
so for me, as I get older now and I see that,
10:45
I just think that I don't regret anything.
10:49
I really committed myself to that.
10:50
But what has happened now is all of a sudden,
10:53
I think not just musicians but anybody,
10:56
I mean, I see Tiger Woods now, he's 40 years old.
10:58
I mean, golf for me.
10:59
And he had the worst round ever,
11:01
he was in last place this weekend.
11:02
What has happened is life happens
11:04
and at some point it catches up with you
11:07
and you know, that's sort of what happened with me too.
11:10
No, but
11:11
I mean, you know...
11:12
That's when you're not as good I think.
11:13
For those of you who don't know,
11:15
Dave was a child golf prodigy who played with Tiger.
11:18
[Dave] No, I didn't...
11:19
I tried to qualify--
11:20
Your father claims that, but--
11:22
(laughter)
11:25
That is not true.
11:26
(laughter)
11:29
But what's interesting is, that 27 to 32 year old period,
11:33
which every guy goes through and you're full of energy
11:36
and, as you said, you sacrificed everything, but
11:38
something that happens I think is
11:40
you pivot from all that energy to...
11:43
There's a certain wisdom that arrives
11:46
and I think you're harnessing that
11:48
at this point now, right?
11:50
Right.
11:50
I mean, I think I'm becoming more of the coach
11:53
or general manager if it was a sports analogy.
11:58
I think it's very hard to be in that moment all the time.
12:01
There's just no way
12:02
and I don't know if you guys have experienced that moment
12:05
but you just feel like you can do anything
12:08
and all the bad ideas become good ideas
12:10
and you're not afraid of anything
12:12
and it's a terrifying feeling because
12:15
you can't live in that moment forever
12:17
and you sacrifice a lot to be there
12:21
and I sacrificed everything.
12:24
So, I think it's a dangerous place to be
12:25
and I don't recommend it for everybody
12:27
but if you're 27 years old, I mean
12:29
be as selfish as possible.
12:31
Literally.
12:33
Because if you're a normal rational human being
12:36
you won't be that selfish after a certain period of time.
12:39
Right.
12:40
If we go back to your restaurant,
12:42
there's always that picture of McEnroe
12:45
in your front hallway there.
12:48
Who inspires you and who has inspired you
12:51
in your creative work?
12:54
I mean, I love...
12:54
McInroe is literally the patron saint of Momofuku.
12:57
(laughter)
12:58
Why is that?
12:59
I just grew up loving this guy.
13:01
(laughs)
13:02
He just refused to accept a situation
13:06
even if he was dead wrong. (laughs)
13:08
He also broke a lot of (crosstalk)
13:09
He broke a lot of things, he had an amazing temper
13:11
but in general, whatever...
13:14
Honestly, anything can inspire me that is an underdog.
13:19
I love...
13:20
There's nothing to me more pure in life than
13:22
rooting for the underdog.
13:23
And I can find that in anything.
13:25
[Michael] Mmm-hmm.
13:27
So whether it's film, whether it's literature or music,
13:31
I love seeing that underground become overground.
13:35
And you get turned on a lot, I know, by innovation
13:37
so where do you...
13:38
When you think about innovating stuff,
13:41
where do you get that?
13:41
I think there's different types of innovation.
13:43
I think I know...
13:44
One of my strength is I know what I'm not good at
13:46
and it's a lot, most things.
13:48
And I know that I'm not going to be a Wylie Dufresne
13:50
or a Ferran Adria or many other chefs
13:53
where they can literally innovate new ideas.
13:57
I'm that guy that's going to...
13:59
I mean, all these years I've gone to the MoMA
14:01
or not gone to the MoMA and just been like,
14:03
This is garbage.
14:04
(laughs)
14:06
I'd much rather go to the Met.
14:08
But now, I'm like, Oh, MoMA's pretty cool,
14:10
because I feel like anybody could've done that.
14:13
But nobody did except for one person
14:16
and I feel like, that's the innovation that we can do
14:18
where you're gonna come up with a idea
14:21
that is brilliant because no one else thought of it
14:25
'cause it was staring at people right in their face.
14:28
It was so abundantly clear that somebody could do something
14:31
and to me those are the best ideas
14:32
because they are the most hated.
14:34
Like, that's nothing.
14:36
(laughs)
14:37
You know, you look at something, you're like,
14:37
Uh, that's so stupid.
14:39
That's nothing, I could've done that.
14:40
But you didn't and to me that's
14:44
the idea that I'm searching after or constantly
14:46
'cause I feel like all the great ideas are taken
14:49
or smarter people are gonna figure that out
14:52
or I'm thinking, I'm gonna struggle with
14:55
the stuff that's staring at everybody,
14:58
the plain and simple stuff.
14:59
I mean if you were looking at...
15:01
Is that equivalent to a Warhol doing a Campbell soup can
15:06
or I mean, is it finding something
15:10
as radically simple as that?
15:12
Like the pork butt.
15:13
I mean, I think that you can sound like a real asshole
15:16
talking like this.
15:17
I know, I think I just did.
15:18
(laughter)
15:19
So, I'm not trying to because I know nothing about art
15:21
I'm counting on you to keep me honest.
15:22
So, I'm not...
15:23
I don't want to go down that road.
15:25
I'm just saying in the sense
15:26
of the pure, simple fact that
15:27
when I look at art--
15:28
An asshole is a compliment for David.
15:30
(laughs)
15:31
When I look at art, I'm like Wow.
15:32
I could've done that.
15:33
That's what I want a dish to be like,
15:35
Oh, that's stupid simple.
15:36
I could've done that.
15:37
You know like, I could've made that burger,
15:39
but it's so simple.
15:41
But you didn't.
15:41
You didn't.
15:42
In-N-Out's so simple.
15:44
But you didn't and it's so good.
15:46
(laughs)
15:47
To me, at least on the culinary end,
15:50
that's what I'm really after
15:52
is the plain and simple idea is that
15:54
people don't want to do it because it's not cool.
15:56
Right.
15:57
We talked about your father just a minute ago,
15:59
I mean, jokes aside, but
16:01
was your father a big inspiration on you?
16:03
I mean, you came from very different background.
16:06
Yeah.
16:07
My dad was basically a hustler
16:08
that immigrated to this country in 1963.
16:11
And I don't understand or believe any of the stories.
16:14
(laughter)
16:15
I mean, real shady stuff.
16:17
(laughter)
16:20
But his entire life,
16:23
he taught me one thing
16:24
and I say this all the time, and I would like...
16:27
He taught me a lot of things,
16:28
one of which was always work, work, work
16:30
and now, he's like Oh, you're working too much.
16:32
And I'm like, what the fuck?
16:33
(light laughter)
16:34
But in a nutshell, this is Joe Chang, my dad.
16:38
We would go to restaurants, all the time as a kid
16:40
'cause he worked in restaurants for 30 years
16:44
before a career change
16:47
and he would always look at the bathrooms
16:49
whether it was a fancy restaurant,
16:51
or more often than not hole-in-the-walls
16:53
and he'd always come back from the bathroom
16:56
and be like, Okay, we can eat here.
16:57
(laughs)
16:58
I'm like, what the, what?
16:59
It was so embarrassing.
17:01
But for someone that cleaned toilets
17:03
for most of his life in restaurants,
17:05
it was something that was very important to him
17:07
'cause it told him volumes about the establishment.
17:10
And let's just say you go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant
17:12
and you look at the bathroom and they serve great food,
17:16
or maybe that they're a mom-and-pop shop, and they're just
17:19
they're doing everything, they're fighting the good fight.
17:21
And you look in the bathroom,
17:22
and it looks dirty from a distance.
17:25
But if you look closer, it's only looking dirty
17:27
because it's so worn in because they cleaned it so much.
17:31
And then the key is
17:33
are they cleaning the back of the toilet?
17:36
'Cause who cares about that.
17:38
Right?
17:39
But if they're caring about that,
17:40
rest assured that everything will be taken care of.
17:43
And it also tells you volumes about the establishment
17:46
because I've gone to a fancy restaurant,
17:48
I've tried my dad's theory out numerous times
17:50
and it's worked out.
17:52
I've gone to arguably the best restaurant in New York City
17:55
and you look at the back of the toilet and it's...
17:57
Everything else looks spotless, and it is spotless
18:02
but if you look at the back of the toilet
18:03
where people would never clean, it's filthy.
18:06
And I think that tells you volumes about that establishment
18:09
because it also tells you, who's cleaning the toilet?
18:13
Literally on the totem pole, the lowest person.
18:15
It means they don't give a fuck about working there.
18:18
They don't.
18:19
Right.
18:20
And I would much rather find a way to communicate that...
18:23
You know, if I have the lowest person on the totem pole
18:25
caring about doing it the right way,
18:29
I mean, then we're doing it right.
18:31
There's a hundred people
18:32
who's gonna walk out of here tonight with--
18:33
(laughter)
18:35
If they go to dinner afterwards,
18:37
they're all gonna make it one stop--
18:38
'Cause that's the difference
18:38
between a great meal and understanding that
18:42
if you go to our restaurants right now,
18:43
I'm sure you'll see that our toilets are dirty
18:45
but you have the have the people believe that
18:49
everything has to be right
18:50
and it's a battle to find the details.
18:54
A great meal is a combination of all the small things
18:56
that no one else cares about.
18:58
Was there a moment you felt you made it?
19:01
Never.
19:02
I mean, I still never try to think about that.
19:05
And I think then I'll fucking go all...
19:06
I mean, I'm already a crazy person.
19:08
I think I will be more insane.
19:09
(laughter)
19:10
I mean, yeah.
19:11
I don't, I try not to think about it.
19:15
When something good happens to you, can you enjoy it?
19:17
No.
19:18
(laughs) I really, I can't.
19:20
You're enjoying this?
19:21
I--
19:22
(laughter)
19:23
This is crazy that it's happening but I'm doing it,
19:25
if it was anyone else that asked me, I would say no.
19:27
But like, 'cause Mike asked me, I was like, Of course!
19:30
You've been so supportive of my career
19:32
and that's certainly why
19:34
but overall, in terms of all the things that are happening
19:38
and I'm so blessed to be in this position,
19:40
it's unbelievable
19:41
but to be able to think about it and wax poetic
19:46
I just, that's not what I want.
19:48
There's so much more that I want to do.
19:49
And not just for me, it's for the people
19:52
that work at Momofuku right now.
19:54
That's what I want.
19:55
And if I sit back and I'm like, Oh, life is great,
19:57
which it is, life is amazing.
19:58
I have no complaints but
20:00
learning how to appreciate it
20:01
is something that I'm having a hard time.
20:05
So if there's so much more you wanna do,
20:07
how do lead them to the next step then?
20:09
I'm figuring that out.
20:10
I'm not in the kitchen, I'm here.
20:13
I never wanted to be that athlete or that cook
20:15
that is 40 years old
20:18
is like, Oh, I can still play this game.
20:19
I can still do this.
20:21
The reality is most people don't understand
20:22
is cooking is an intensely physical thing
20:24
that demands so much of your body
20:26
and you don't get better as you get older,
20:30
you get wiser but
20:33
other things happen, life happens
20:34
and I never want to live that lie
20:36
so while I'm still there, I'm trying to figure out
20:38
what my role can be going forward
20:40
and for me, it's like I have these amazingly talented people
20:44
and it's trying to give them their moment
20:45
to do what they need to do
20:47
and basically being the manager
20:50
and I am a terrible manager
20:52
and for years I wanted to never be a manager of people.
20:57
That's why I became a cook.
20:59
I became a cook so I'd never have to talk to people.
21:01
(laughter)
21:02
I mean, it's true.
21:03
It sounds ridiculous but--
21:04
(laughter)
21:05
And now that's not the case
21:07
and I tend to dive into things that I'm really bad at
21:11
and it dawned on me that
21:13
the thing that I'm avoiding the most
21:14
is the thing I'm really bad at
21:15
and that's trying to manage people.
21:17
So, that's what I'm trying to do right now.
21:21
You know, it's easier for me to stand behind the line
21:23
and just cook.
21:24
Is there anyone you learned from?
21:26
I always think about this moment, some years ago,
21:28
we had this roast of Alan Richman we did,
21:31
our food writer, first 25th anniversary
21:34
and a number of chefs, Daniel, Eric Ripert,
21:39
Dave got up and did a roast of him
21:41
but Daniel Boulud was sitting up front
21:45
and you got up to speak
21:47
and for those of you who don't know,
21:48
Dave used to work
21:50
For Daniel.
21:50
For Daniel.
21:51
And Daniel, I didn't hear what he said
21:54
but he said something that was sort of like,
21:56
teased you for a moment.
21:58
Do you remember this moment?
21:59
Yeah.
22:00
I mean, I'm scared of him still.
22:01
(laughter)
22:03
Yeah, it was like Dave's face went white
22:05
and he turned to Chef and he said,
22:07
I'm still scared of you, Chef.
22:08
(laughter)
22:09
And you were--
22:10
I don't remember what he said, but--
22:11
You were I mean, enormously successful--
22:12
If he asked me to jump, I'd say,
22:13
How high, Chef?
22:14
What do you want from me?
22:15
Right.
22:16
And, yeah.
22:17
I mean, that's just how it is.
22:19
These guys are my mentors.
22:22
I mean, he's been so amazing to me over my career,
22:25
it's unbelievable.
22:26
All those guys are.
22:28
What did you learn from Daniel
22:29
that you still--
22:31
I won't tell you exactly what
22:34
'cause it's hard for me to tell you exactly what it is
22:35
'cause he's this terrifying figure in my life still
22:38
(light laughter)
22:39
and I didn't even work for him that long.
22:40
I actually worked...
22:41
I don't need to go down that road but
22:43
our first year when we opened up, we were dead slow
22:46
and Daniel Boulud shouldn't care about me at all
22:50
and I got a call from his maitre d' saying
22:52
Hey, Daniel Boulud wants to send
22:54
some guests down your way, for lunch.
22:56
And for a while he was sending his most valuable guests
23:00
to eat lunch at our restaurants.
23:01
No one knew about this.
23:03
And I was like, I didn't even understand,
23:05
why are these guys spending so much money here?
23:07
They could eat anywhere else.
23:08
[Mike] Right.
23:09
But Daniel was supporting us
23:10
and I will never forget that
23:12
and that's to me
23:16
the mentor he is.
23:17
He's always gonna do the best for everybody.
23:19
Is there anything that you haven't accomplished
23:22
that when you think about, is there a dream ambition
23:26
that you haven't done yet?
23:29
Like mathematicians puzzle over great equations,
23:32
is there something in the food world that...?
23:36
There's a lot of things I wish I could do
23:38
but I'm really not that regretful, like
23:40
Oh, I wish I did that.
23:42
'Cause I tend to follow my impulses.
23:46
But for right now, it has less to do
23:48
with an award or a dish.
23:52
It has more to do with...
23:53
If there's one thing that I want to do so badly,
23:56
is I want our line cooks to get paid above union wage.
24:01
I want the sous chefs and everybody who works
24:03
in our restaurant to get paid as much as
24:04
any other business it could be.
24:06
It's an impossible goal, right?
24:08
But that's my goal, is to be able to...
24:11
If we can do that, and be profitable
24:12
and pay back our investors and so on and so forth,
24:15
that means we're being great custodian to our farmers,
24:21
our neighborhood, just in general
24:23
we're running a great business.
24:24
And if we can still take care of our own,
24:26
where as a line cook you're getting paid nothing
24:29
and that kills me that in this day and age, people...
24:33
I started, I got paid like $9.75 in 1999.
24:36
I mean, it's not that far away.
24:38
Yet, everything else is more expensive.
24:40
You can't even live in anywhere for that amount of money.
24:43
So I'm still always gonna have a cook's mentality
24:46
and represent that so if we can get to the point where
24:50
we can effect change through being a big business
24:53
and helping our guys out, making more money,
24:55
and putting more money in everyone else's pocket,
24:59
and taking care of our own, then that's my goal.
25:02
Whatever I need to do to get there,
25:03
and as long as it's in a moral fashionable way,
25:06
then I'm cool with that.
25:07
(laughter)
25:09
You've got places in Australia, Canada, New York.
25:13
You're going to Cleveland in a couple days
25:15
to watch (mumbles) play.
25:17
It seems you're always exploring,
25:19
poking in different corners of the world,
25:20
is there anywhere that's feeding your creativity these days?
25:26
I'm so fascinated with
25:30
I say, the culinary mundane right now
25:33
where it could be a crappy sandwich at a deli.
25:36
That's what I want.
25:37
But in general now, I'm looking after that experience
25:40
that doesn't have to be that fine dining experience.
25:46
In Austin, it's Franklin's Barbecue.
25:48
That was like, one of the best meals of my life.
25:50
It's amazing.
25:52
It's so good, and it's salt, pepper, and smoke.
25:56
You know, I want things, I wanna go to Tokyo,
25:58
I wanna eat at a couple sushi counters,
26:01
not because I can't get sushi here
26:02
but what I want to taste is the 40 years of experience.
26:05
[Michael] Right.
26:06
You know?
26:07
And I feel like the Internet has certainly made food better
26:12
and I get a lot of shit for saying it,
26:13
you know I always make fun of millennials
26:15
but it's amazing to me that how
26:19
food knowledge is more important than ever before.
26:21
People care more about food
26:23
but I feel like the innovation is taking place for,
26:27
taken over for craftsmanship, a little bit.
26:31
That's what I want.
26:32
I want to taste food from somebody
26:33
that's been doing it forever.
26:35
Well, you've always placed
26:36
a high premium on craftsmanship.
26:39
(sighs) There's only one...
26:41
I mean, to me craftsmanship is,
26:42
you either do it shitty or you don't do it at all.
26:45
I mean, you make it right or you don't do it.
26:47
There's just...
26:48
Life is too short to be mediocre at something.
26:51
I always yell at cooks, when I'm like,
26:54
If you took this job to make money,
26:55
you're a fucking idiot.
26:57
(chuckles)
26:59
Why would you sacrifice your education
27:02
so you can make money?
27:03
I understand you have to make money to pay rent
27:06
but at a certain point, it's about learning
27:08
and getting better at this craft, this job of yours.
27:12
[Mike] Right.
27:13
To me, I have to remind myself that
27:15
to make sure that we don't do shitty stuff.
27:18
And it could be something, like
27:20
we were gonna launch a fried chicken sandwich.
27:22
Not something that you would say is craft,
27:25
like a real art to it all, but
27:28
in my mind it's like, what if somebody tasted it and says,
27:30
That's my best food experience of my life.
27:33
'Cause if I think about the best food experiences of my life
27:35
it's a fish taco in Mexico, it's a hamburger, simple.
27:40
I'm not thinking about the decor
27:42
or even the company I'm with.
27:44
I'm thinking about these moments and that's what I'm after
27:46
is that moment where someone tastes something
27:47
and they're like, Ah, that's the fucking best thing
27:49
I've ever had.
27:50
And that's what I'm after, I don't necessarily care about
27:54
how it looks, more or less, but how it tastes.
27:58
Right, right.
28:00
Is there anything I haven't asked you that--
28:02
Ah.
28:03
No?
28:03
(laughter)
28:05
You know where to find Dave if you want,
28:07
you just go down to his restaurants, they're awesome.
28:09
Is there any, I got time for one quick question with Dave
28:11
and then, is there anyone have a question?
28:14
[Woman] I have one.
28:15
Yes?
28:17
[Karen] Hi Dave, I'm Karen, I work at GQ.
28:19
Hi, Karen.
28:20
[Karen] And we've noticed that you now
28:22
have a column every month.
28:24
Ha! Yes.
28:26
[Karen] Which is amazing.
28:27
(drinks water)
28:30
Can you talk a little bit about that,
28:32
what inspires you to write it or how your life has changed?
28:36
I can tell you how that all happened.
28:37
(laughter)
28:38
Jim Nelson has been amazing, the editor of GQ,
28:41
and I was going through a really hard part of my life,
28:43
and I was telling Jim for some sage advice
28:46
'cause he's so wise.
28:48
And he's like, You know what, Dave?
28:49
You gotta write a column for GQ. (laughs)
28:52
I was like, That's the last thing I wanna do!
28:54
(laughter)
28:56
I mean, I'm flattered that you would think so,
28:58
but man, I don't need more shit to do.
29:00
(laughter)
29:03
So--
29:04
[Karen] The best thing that ever happened to you.
29:05
It's been--
29:06
(laughter)
29:06
It's fun because I get to work with the guys,
29:09
the whole team at GQ and contribute to an organization
29:13
that quite frankly has been so supportive
29:15
of Momofuku over the years
29:16
so it's great to be able to do something
29:18
and I have the creative freedom to do whatever I want
29:20
and again, I get way too much credit.
29:23
If I didn't get the help of bouncing ideas off of
29:25
basically the Lucky Peach team
29:27
because we have our own magazine, too.
29:30
It's like, it wouldn't work
29:32
and again, to me, that column is really a team effort
29:35
and it allows us to talk about things that...
29:39
(laughs) I feel like I'm becoming this,
29:42
it's the curmudgeon column, you know?
29:43
(laughter)
29:44
Talkin' about all the things I dislike.
29:47
But it's fun and I'm really honored to have that opportunity
29:49
and speaking of which, I have, I'm late.
29:52
(laugh)
29:53
I have one due that was due Monday
29:56
and I've really learned how to be--
29:58
It's only Tuesday!
29:59
(laughs) For a writer, that's...
30:00
Tuesday is Monday.
30:01
But it's hard, writing for me is really hard.
30:03
It's really hard.
30:04
It's so much easier to talk about it.
30:07
Well, it's been great having you, Dave.
30:09
Thank you so much. Really honored.
30:10
Thanks guys.
30:10
(applause)
30:13
(upbeat electronic music)