When David Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004, he almost immediately took the culinary world by storm. Within a few short years, he was one of the most widely known, wildly hyped, and deeply beloved chefs in America. More restaurants followed. In 2007, he was the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year. In 2009, he scored his second Michelin star. In 2011, he launched the much-lauded renegade food magazine, Lucky Peach — an outlet which helped make food conversation fun again.
With his stratospheric level of rekown, it was only a matter of time before Chang ended up on TV. After doing the fod competition judging rounds for a few years, he hosted the first season of the PBS-produced, Anthony Bourdain-created Mind of a Chef. In 2018, he hosted Ugly, Delicious on Netflix — delving deep into the food system. Last week, Chang returned to Netflix with Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. The show takes a more typical form of travel TV — “man goes to place, eats some stuff, sees some places, draws a few conclusions” — with one cool wrinkle: Chang is all too willing to cede hosting duties to his guests. It’s an interesting wrinkle on an interesting show, one in which one of the best chefs alive explores the world with wide-eyes and an eager palate.
I spoke with Chang this week about the show, the loss of Anthony Bourdain, and the importance of travel in shaping our modern world.
One of the things I love about what you do with your different shows is that they’re still kind of this fast and loose — a little bit shaggy. It’s an “I’m figuring this thing out as I go” energy that I like. Is that intentional? Is that something that you do because you kind of are a post-modernist who wants to break the conventions or what’s your thought on that?
Well, yeah, I can definitely see that. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it other than what you see as me trying to figure it out, that’s literally my daily existence. That’s just who I am as a person. And if that comes across that way it’s because I think that if I can summarize it, I think that’s what people would say if they work with me or know me really well is I’m constantly figuring something out.
Something I really like about the show is that there’s that energy of, “What are we going to do today?” kind of approach to eating and in Seth’s case, smoking weed. Or in Chrissy’s case, touring Marrakesh. Did you know from the outset that you wanted to let the guests lead the way? How much did you guys use fixers? To what degree did you kind of make sure that there was something happening vs. just meandering?
Well, the planning part was… how should I say? It was both easy and difficult.
Number one, right? Trying to find the right balance of things that we need to discover. And that was definitely the case for Cambodia, for instance. We’re sort of on a time crunch. How do we do all the things that we want to do within a certain amount of time? And that’s not easy. But also we sort of have to figure out what stories and what foods and which kinds of conversations are going to work. So that was hard, right? Just because you can go somewhere doesn’t mean you should. Maybe it’s already been covered or maybe it’s not something that we want to do.
Sure. There are places that have been “travel show”-ed to death.
And maybe there’s another way to talk about those places. Because, for instance, going back to Cambodia I feel like a lot of people would expect a visit to the Killing Fields. That’s sort of expected when you make a show there. And of course that’s important to cover. But maybe there’s another way to talk about the atrocities of the genocide?