The Momofuku chef addressed concerns over its lack of representation of women and African Americans.
Chef David Chang always wants to make everything better.
“I’m not the happiest person,” Chang said. “I could have the best day in the world but I could be like ‘Oh, we could do this better.'”
During a recent interview at Recode’s Code Conference the Momofuku Restaurant Group founder shared how that philosophy has impacted all of his business projects. While Netflix food series Ugly Delicious won a Webby Special Achievement Award for Special Achievement for “bringing nuanced conversations on food, authenticity, and culture to the Internet,” it has also received some backlash over its lack of representation of women and African Americans in the culinary industry.
“I’ve read every bit of criticism about that TV show, just like I read every review, because it just kills me when anyone has a bad time,” Chang said. “So, yes, I’ve read every criticism—whether it wasn’t inclusive enough through African Americans or through women—I just know that we had one season, and we did our best, and we had no intention of trying to be exclusive. Hopefully there’s a second season, and we’ll be able to do it better.”
As a restauranteur, Chang said he genuinely applies criticisms to his improvement projects rather than letting them roll off his back. In May 2016, New York Times food critic Pete Wells visited Momofuku Nishi, one of Chang’s many restaurants, and gave it a one-star review. Wells called the signature dish, the Cacio e Pepe, “lukewarm” and said “I don’t know why this dish exists, except to find a use for a proprietary Momofuku product.”
“I had never gotten a bad review ever until Pete Wells destroyed a restaurant that I continue to talk about,” Chang said. “I’m sure people at Momofuku are like ‘Why is he bringing it up again?’ but because I’ve learned so much from it. That medicine tasted terrible, but I think it really helped us to re-evaluate what we needed to do—where we needed to go—and quite frankly I think all of our restaurants around the world are doing better than ever before because of that review. So I hate to give it to the New York Times and Pete Wells, but I am weirdly thankful for that.”
During the interview, Chang also addressed the #MeToo movement and the recent sexual harassment allegations that have been plaguing the industry, citing Eater’s most recent reports about Mario Batali, in which women came forward alleging that he groped them while they were taking photos.
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“It’s not just disheartening. You’re like… Jesus Christ, this is so hard to read,” Chang said. “Because simultaneously, I don’t know if we would be in business today without Mario’s support. So I feel obligated to recognize that, but also, like, what do I do with the opportunities I have now? And the only thing I think I can do with the platform that we have, is to be the best-in-class business with the most thoughtful, forward-thinking culture, knowing that we’re never going to be perfect. But that’s always been our goal.”