Authors@Google: David Chang and Peter Meehan

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 12.06.2012

>>Catherine Eng: Hi everyone. Welcome. I'm Catherine Eng. I'm on the Authors at Google
team, at Google Los Angeles. I'm very, very excited to welcome chef David Chang and Peter
Meehan today at Google Los Angeles. David Chang is the executive chef and owner of the
Momofuku Restaurant Group which spans eight restaurants from New York City to Sydney and
soon Toronto. Since opening the Noodle Bar in 2004, Dave has been honored with numerous
awards from Food and Wine Magazine, Bon Appetit, GQ Man of the Year, and of course, three James
Beard awards, and two Michelin stars.
Dave's first cookbook, Momofuku, was published in 2009. And he launched Lucky Peach, a quarterly
food journal, last summer. Peter Meehan is also here today. He writes
about food. He wrote for the New York Times for four years and has written for numerous
food and travel publications. Peter collaborated with Dave on Momofuku, the cookbook and he
and Dave launched Lucky Peach last year. In conjunction with McSweeney's.
Today's conversation will be moderated by our own chef Michael Brown. And if you haven't
already, make sure you grab a copy of Lucky Peach and try one of Momofuku Milk Bar's cookies
that we're serving today. And without further ado, I give you David and Peter.
>>Dave: Thanks for havin'us. Thanks guys. Strange, I was telling Kat that we've been,
I think. I think I've been to every Google office in North America. [laughter] And this
is by far the most, you have the beach right here. This is amazing. But we're really honored
to be here and always happy to share our stories. And there's so many things to talk about.
In terms of what we do and Peter and I do. And one of the stories we'd like to share
with you, a couple years ago, when we started to do Lucky Peach, it was actually supposed
to be an app. Still may be an app, but it was in purgatory and Peter decided to make
a magazine out of the stuff that never made it to the, you know, the final cut. So, this
whole weird magazine sort of happened.
>>Peter: Everyone thought it was a terrible idea.
>>Dave: It was a terrible idea. It still is a terrible idea.
>>Peter: This is true.
>>Dave: Anyway, one of the things that people always want us to talk about is our time in
Kyoto. In Japan in general. But our time in Kyoto, because it's a part of Japan in the
culinary world that not that many people know about. Kyoto probably has the oldest and richest
culinary culture in the world. You know, I was fortunate enough four years ago to be
invited by the Chef Murata-san. He is like this kingly figure in Japanese cuisine. Scares
the hell out of me. Peter thinks he's a really nice guy. He is a nice guy. But he commands
this presence. Anyway, he invited myself, two chefs from the UK, Claude Bosi, Sat Bains,
that are actually in the current issue of Lucky Peach. And Mike Anthony, the chef at
Gramercy Tavern. And Mauro Colagreco, a chef from Mirazur in Menton, France. On the border
of France and Italy. In the region of Nice. Anyway, we got to cook at various restaurants
and that was such a honor. Because Kyoto is extraordinarily insular. They're not necessarily
xenophobic but they don't wanna share their, historically they haven't shared what they've
learned over literally thousands, fifteen hundred years of cooking.
And you get to work at these restaurants where they do stuff that you have never seen before.
And we had access to it and were learning this stuff. And we were the first foreigners
to actually see what was going on. Working in a restaurant that is over 1,000 years old.
I don't, it's crazy. If you're in a 300 year old restaurant, that's considered young. To
meet a chef, you know, Murata's like the head of this whole group there. To meet a chef
where he's a 15th generation chef. His family's been cooking for over 1,000 years. And to
meet a farmer that they work with who's also a 15th generation farmer. His family's been
farming for over 1,000 years. And you know, I didn't do my homework. But I can't imagine,
maybe there's a handful of farmers in the world that have that lineage. And it was quite
fascinating. He's somebody that forgets more about farming than we'll ever know about farming.
And we're there in December, and it's snowing, and had the best strawberry I ever had in
my life. I don't know how the hell he did it. But he just knew. And he knew, this farmer
knew, how each strawberry was gonna taste in the different parts of his greenhouse.
So there's this extraordinarily rich culinary tradition and they allowed us in. And I told
Pete, you know, if we get a chance, let's go to Kyoto. And we got permission from Murata
to film at Kikunoi. And
>>Peter: Eat at Kikunoi. My main memory of Kikunoi was that Dave and I are usually dressed
like this. So I just rolled to Kikunoi kinda dressed like this. And I didn't realize what
a formal and beautiful restaurant it was. And he wore this like, hand tailored suit
you'd get in a GQ photo shoot. And then Murata kinda
>>Dave: Laughed at you.
>>Pete: Yeah. So that was my takeaway from dinner.
>>Dave: But it's, there's so many interesting things about Kyoto 'cause it's'a bit different.
I'm sure some of you have spent time in Tokyo. Having lived there in Japan in various parts.
But whenever I get to Kyoto, it's almost like a break from the insanity that is Tokyo. And
actually I've been to your Tokyo offices [laughs] in Google. But it's crazy. Because the chefs
there are like alpha males in this society. It's very weird. I've never been to a culture
where being a cook is like the highest honor. Because it's just been passed down and it's
something that's so hard for any of us or a cook for us, to understand and comprehend
that cooking has remained this high craft form. And you know, it's not bankers. It's
not people who work at Google who are really like the superstars of Kyoto. It's very strange
to see it as chefs. And you know, eating a meal there, at Kikunoi. Has anyone been to
Kyoto and been to Kikunoi?
OK. So. It's pretty intense and one of the cool things that they do at Kikunoi is that
they have a fish shop. They purchase fish, and on the compound of Murata's compound at
Kikunoi where all the cooks live, 27 cooks. His mother and his two daughters, all live
in the compound. And part of the compound they have a, what looks like a very nice aquarium
but it is almost, it's really not good to be a fish. It's a process called "ikejime."
We talk about it a little bit in the last,
>>Pete: Issue Two.
>>Dave: Issue Two of Lucky Peach. And there we question. And this is the first time where
I started to question food and the status quo of food. 'Cause you just assume that fish
is fresh. When you get it at the supermarket or.
>>Pete: And fresh is best.
>>Dave: And fresh fish is best. You assume that catching a fish right out of the water,
it's going to be the best fish. You hear all the time, like, I want the freshest fish.
Or you're at a sushi restaurant and you hear some yahoo being like, "This fish isn't fresh
enough." Like, to, you don't even think about what the concept of "fresh" is. It's been
handed down to you. Even if your innate instinct is to like, shy away from it because it may
smell bad or something. Maybe that is fresh. "Fresh" is certainly not, it's very relative.
But at the same time it's pretty objective if you think about how the Japanese view what
"fresh" is. And this is probably the main thing that I learned. One of the major things
that I've learned in Kyoto was questioning what is "fresh". Because there, they have
these fish in the tanks. Either, and they're gonna perform ikejime is the severing of the
brain cortex and all the nervous system from the fish and basically long story cut short,
it slows and controls the rigor mortis process.
So, Japanese chef, in Kyoto, where you serve it sashimi or something. Mostly as sashimi.
You can control the flavor and the texture of the fish. And there's a optimal time. And
it's not usually
>>Pete: Right out of the water.
>>Dave: Yeah. Not out of the water. If you eat, most of the time if you eat sushi, or
crudo in a restaurant. Its'at least four or five days old. Sometimes it can go all the
way to two weeks. But you wanna age the fish. And there's a moment where that fish is going
to be at its peak. And you can, using different culinary techniques, you can either preserve
that fish to ensure that sweet spot. Or you know, basically it threw my entire notion
of what "fresh" is. I always knew that if you have to ask the question "What is a fresh
fish?" It's not fresh.
>>Pete: But the thing is, that fresh isn't actually a metric for deliciousness. And that's
what you learned at, with Murata-san at Kikunoi. Where you learned about ikejime where you
like, spike the fish in the brain and then you drive a wire through its spine.
>>Dave: And it seems really gruesome. But it's actually an extraordinarily humane way
to kill a fish.
>>Pete: That versus, you know, cutting open the gills and letting it bleed out on ice
and asphyxiate. So it's a faster way of death. But it short-circuits the natural, you know,
the more common, the rigor mortis process that fish go through here. So it's a way of
controlling the texture of the fish which is really important in a raw fish preparation
. Because otherwise, you know, you have no other way of manipulating it. And then the
other thing we saw when we were in Tokyo at a Sawada, he ages, this is this insane sushi
restaurant where we had this brilliant meal. But he ages his tuna ten days in the refrigerator.
And it was the most amazing tuna we'd ever had. And he doesn't like modern refrigerators
'cause they have fans in them. So he has like a huge block of ice.
>>Dave: it's as old school as you get.
>>Pete: It's a big, yeah. You know, 'cause
>>Dave: If he could have
>>Pete: That would dry out his fish.
>>Dave: If he could have no electricity in his restaurant, he would do that. Behind his
sushi line, which was just him and his wife, six seats. It's just charcoal and block ice
refrigeration. And I think it's the, for me, it's my favorite sushi restaurant in the world.
And that's a whole 'nother issue. Topic. But a lot of people question his rice, 'cause
he doesn't use aged rice. He uses fresh rice. But Sushi Sawada, if you ever get to Tokyo,
please try to make a reservation 'cause it's just fantastic.
But overall, Pete and I get to, we're in this really amazing situation. Very fortunate to
travel all over the place. To come to places like Google or to go to places like Japan.
And to get access to places where most people wouldn't get access. You know. We're very
fortunate in that regard. Or we get to go to Copenhagen and get to cook with Rene Redzepi
all day long at Noma. which is for the third year in a row won the best restaurant of the
year and number one restaurant in the world from Restaurant Magazine. So it's part of
it is just for us to have fun and to document this process. And then sharing this information
with people that might be interested. Which is what Lucky Peach was and continues to be.
You know, Pete just wrapped up the latest issue called America. We did an issue on American
food. And somehow we continue to get the ability to do whatever the hell we want. I mean, Pete
you can talk about the latest issue.
>>Pete: Yeah, we, Daniel Patterson from Coi in San Francisco suggested the theme. Like
American cuisine, whatever that is. So we typically we agree on a theme and then we
get in a fight about how to approach it and then take that out in a couple different ways.
But this new one, I don't know, we've gotten really lucky with contributors. David Simon
who did Treme and The Wire, contributed an essay. Wrote about Cambodian donut shops in
>>Dave: And really the question is, what is American food? I mean, so, we took a weird
perspective on it. I, we did a lot of different takes on it but one of them was based on the
movie "Diner." Barry Levinson directed it in 1984. And I think it's Steve Gutenberg's
finest hour. And it's, you know, it's sort of a look into Americana in the 1950's and
we did an entire issue out of it, basically. So we get to have fun and creatively we get
to do whatever we want in that regard. But part of it was, we get to explore questions.
I think I recently described, or was telling somebody about Lucky Peach. It's a "culinary
investigation of the mundane." Because I think the best ideas, culinary ideas or non-culinary
ideas, happen to be the ones that are staring you right in the face. People, I'm always
trying to find this reaction from somebody that reads something or tastes something and
they, I want them to go like this. They're like "Why didn't I think of that? That's so
simple! Why didn't I do that?" That's what we're sort of after, that sort of illusive,
very simple but deceivingly complex idea or food. And you know, trying to, Peter does
an amazing job in capturing that, I think. And we try to do it on the food end and going
back to the American theme, we were trying to figure out what the hell American food
So, it's just, it's neither here nor there. I think that people don't even know how to
describe it. So I think it's, there's this generation of chefs, are really trying to
figure out what California food, not Californian food, but what American food is. Like California
has a distinct cuisine. The southern, the south of America, southern states in America
have a distinct cuisine. Even New England has a distinct cuisine. But nobody wants to
cook it. Nobody wants to delve into it and figure out what the history is behind it.
And how do we represent what we do in America? And find our own voice. And I, it's a little
bit troublesome when we imitate so much of what's going on outside of America and try
to bring it back to America. And I think that we have enough talent, we have enough resources,
and we have enough savvy consumers like yourselves that come to our restaurants to, you know,
further the American culinary talent. Like, American cuisine is this melting pot. And
we're not reflecting that enough. So, it's our challenge. It's our struggle to sort of
push that a little bit further and to find out what that is. So, I mean, you can't really
decide what it is. I mean, we recently opened a restaurant in Sydney and you know, I posed
a question to the journalists, like "What is Sydney cuisine?" And they're like "It's
everything." And I was like, "Well." 'Cause they were trying to pigeonhole us into what
kind of food we were gonna cook. And I said, "Instead of trying to figure out what kind
of food we're going to cook and categorizing it so it can be in some Zaga guide or some
blog. Like this is Asian food, this is French food. I think the most important thing that
we need to be concerned about is, how delicious is it? Who cares what kind of food it is,
as long as it's really tasty? Does it bring joy to you when you leave the restaurant and
you think about it? That to me is the most important thing." And I think that's what
we need to find in America. Is like, what is delicious in America and how do we support
that and how do we further that. So.
>>Pete: I'm gonna defer to him on questions.
>>Michael: Well, first of all, I mean, this is an amazing opportunity to have both of
you here. And talking about Lucky Peach, I've started reading Lucky Peach. And the first
thought I got was just how candid the writing was. You could really speak to chefs. You
know, it was a great voice, when you're talking about the PTSD part about our, our, consistently
stressful lives. And what it takes to really get into making it or not in this industry.
So, I think I could say on behalf of a lot of chefs, "Thank you for this publication."
First question we have is, Lucky Peach envelopes a lot of great writing, a lot of art, a lot
of graphics. What was the inspiration for that? And did you find that it's hard to maintain
a color, full color publication when there's truly not a lot of that still happening now?
>>Pete: Yeah. We were making, we were shooting video to put into an app, and that is in some
sort of limbo sarcophagus right now. But I like buying records and books and physical
media. So, and we have friends at McSweeney's who we had wanted to work with for years,
and when they heard about it, we cooked up this idea for a magazine. And it just worked
somehow. And it continued.
>>Dave: We really wanted to do new media.
>>Pete: You really wanted to do new media. I wanted to do dead media. [inaudible]
[laughter] >>Dave: Yeah. It's funny how that works out.
We literally are doing the oldest, most deadest form of media possible.
>>Pete: Yeah. Yeah.
>>Michael: The term "fusion cuisine" went through a "dirty word" phrase with foodies
and now it's in vogue again thanks to the great chefs like you and Roy Choi and Sang
Yoon. What do you make of this change? How come everybody still who's the leaders in
this fusion, this new fusion is Korean. How does that work out.
>>Dave: I don't know. You know it's great to see in LA, like, people always come back
to New York and are like "Man, their Asian food was so fucking awesome." And it is. You
can eat so well here. Even if you just go to Chinatown or Korea Town. Or, I think, I
don't know why the Vietnamese or Southeast Asian food, there's no "Thai Town" or "Vietnamese
Town" here.
[audience murmurs]
Is there?
>>Pete: Yeah, very small.
>>Dave: [inaudible] I know there's an amazing one out in Orange County. Like past Alto there.
>>female audience member: There's all kinds of "towns" around here.
>>Dave: Yeah. So you guys have the ethnic food down in spades. And I just think that
it's just reached a point where a lot of cooks want to just do what they wanna do. And not
necessarily for the customer, but what's delicious and what's interesting to them. You see that
with Roy. You see that obviously with Sang. You see that in California with the Mission
Street Chinese guys. And I think the more we have of that, the more it, it's not necessarily
fusion. It certainly is "fusion" in, I mean, I just hate the concept of people trying to
categorize something that, you know, isn't. Basically, Roy, if you take one of anybody
that's cooking, whatever type of food, using some type of Asian ingredients. If you take
a chef from New York that's French. You know, Jean-Georges is using more Asian ingredients
than say, Roy is. But because Roy is Korean, he's labeled as this Korean-American chef
that's doing this fusion cuisine. But nobody's every gonna ever say anything against Jean-Georges
who, I admire. I'm not talking crap about Jean-Georges. I'm talking about how he's perceived
and how he's marketed to the public. He's this great French chef that has this repertoire
of Asian ingredients in his arsenal. He's cooking French food with an Asian twist. And
one sounds better than the other. And one seems like this weird hodge-podge, mutant
food. But the reality, it's the same thing. Right? People are using ingredients from different
cultures. One's accepted. And one is a "fledgling concept." So I’m all for change, as long
as it sort of furthers, again, trying to make something better. And I think it again, just
the word "fusion" and the word of trying to categorize stuff, ultimately fails. So.
>>Michael: in Lucky Peach Number Two, you allude to the "sweet spot." Also known as
when someone's at their best moment. Do you still worry about that? Is that still part
of your daily thought process?
>>Dave: Yeah. Yeah. [chuckles] You know, I like sports a lot. And when, like the Lakers
are on, and they're like "Oh, Kobe Bryant is turning 34, this is his last year as a
Laker. The Lakers didn't make it to the finals. He's over, it's done." And I'm like "Fuck
man." [laughs] You know? But I don't think that people like to embrace the concept of
not death, per se, but just slow descent to where they're not gonna be as good as they
once were. And I tend to be, I tend to focus on that quite a bit. And I think it's liberating
in a way because if you know that everything has its peak and everything. Everything begins
and everything dies. And somewhere along the way you're going to be better at something
than you were in the past. And you know, I think a lot of people, particularly chefs,
never really think about it. Chefs, we're the most stubborn. We're just so fucking stubborn
it's ridiculous. And we think we're going to get better. We're just always going to
get better. And I see that in athletes. You know, it's like the quarterback Bret Favre.
Who never wants to retire 'cause he thinks he's as good as he was when he was 28 years
old. It's not the case. And no matter what. Even if you're in the humanities, you're going
to not be as good as a judge when you were when you were like 50 years old. When you're
80 years old, you might not--. I mean it's just, accepting that fact I think makes you
smarter. Makes you more efficient in terms of how you think and how you approach and
how you're creative. And maybe you may not be as creative, or you may not endeavor to
do as many things as you did when you were younger. But you're a smarter player. You're
a smarter chef. And you may be a better leader. So instead of being, literally
>>Pete: I really think the relativity of that, how you can change as you mature is the reason
I don't agree with you that there is a sweet spot in life.
>>Dave: See, this is where we, uh.
>>Pete: we just
>>Dave: I mean, it all started with.
>>Pete: You thought ramen was a bad idea for an issue.
>>Dave: But I'm wrong all the time. I admit it. You never do.
>>Pete: As am I.
>>Dave: Like, there's a theory that there will never be another 400 baseball hitter
ever again. And I don't think there ever will. But Peter maintains this notion that it's
going to happen. I think that it's never going to happen. Not that there isn't the talent
to do so, it's just, never going to happen. And, you know, I just, I would rather focus
on what we can do now rather than what is, you know, what is conceivably possible, and,
we're not gonna get into the baseball thing today right now.
>>Michael: I mean, I really love that you guys disagree. You know? 'cause it really
comes out in the magazine and it really brings up you know, discussion and argument. And
you know, I love that dynamic about Lucky Peach and you guys. Going back to the ramen
talk. You know, ramen noodles originated from China and there are types of noodles. Soups
and dishes in Asian culture. Different. But none seem to have captured the American imagination
and appetites as well as ramen except maybe pho.
Why do you think that is? What is it about ramen that really, is, romantic.
>>Pete: I mean, I think the impetus to do an issue on ramen is 'cause there is a great
story. And it's relatively recent. Like the last hundred years. Or when ramen was invented
as a dish and became prominent. And Momofuku Ando, the man who invented instant noodles
has like a super compelling story. So there was just a lot of stories behind it to tell.
Which is the reason we did the issue. But why ramen is so popular? I don't know 'cause
it's cheap? And you can eat it in college? And you know what it is? And I think there's
a gateway drug aspect and you know what ramen is. And now you can go to a ramen shop and
get a real bowl of ramen instead of just a brick. And.
>>Michael: There's also a very social atmosphere as well. You can share and talk about it and
make noises eating it.
>>Dave: That's the thing in America. People in America don't know how to eat noodles.
>>Pete: No, I learned that in Tokyo with Dave. Because I ate professionally for a brief time
in my life so I thought I was good at eating noodles.
>>Dave: it's embarrassing to watch Peter eat noodles.
>>Pete: And, um.
>>Dave: I'm surprised he knows how to used chopsticks.
>>Pete: And yeah, we went to ramen shops. And I just didn't realize you're supposed
to, like, huff the noodles
>>Dave: You're not supposed to talk
>>Pete: while they're like, really hot. And I was taking my time. And, like, it was just
too shameful. I was getting like, I was like, little 40-pound Japanese women were just crushing
these bowls of ramen. I was like "It's so hot, I just need another minute." [laughter]
There's a, we don't actually know how to eat ramen for as much as we like it, it turns
>>Dave: And I would slowly move my seat further away from Peter.
[Peter laughs]
>>Dave: I'm like "I don't know who this guy is." But yeah, you have to eat it smoking,
boiling, hot. Or the noodles are gonna overcook and I, that's just never gonna change. Like,
in the first issue we talk about this I call him the M and M of ramen. Ivan Orkin. And
this, this New York guy serving basic Jewish comfort food in the form of ramen to Japanese
people. It's extraordinarily good ramen and he's trying to open up something in America.
And you know we're talking about how it's gonna work. And I say, "Dude, your ramen.
You're gonna have to change your noodles because Americans are not going to eat it as they
should. And they're gonna complain that the noodles are soggy. Because by the time they
get to the temperature that they wanna eat it at, it's gonna be overcooked." So he's
like "What should I do?" I was like "I don't have an answer." So, yeah.
>>Pete: Yeah.
>>Dave: It's one of those frustrating things. Little things.
>>Michael: What do you guys think is the most punk rock thing happening now in food?
>>Dave: Um, for me I think it's'this guy Alex Stupak in New York. [coughs] He was a pastry
chef at Alinea when it opened up. Extraordinarily influential at that restaurant and the success
it had. And he left to become the pastry chef at wd-50. Wylie Dufresne's important, such
an important restaurant in New York. And he was at the vanguard of not just being one
of the best chefs, but pastry chefs. But one of the few people in the world that actually
created new techniques. And just in general I think in any field there's few people that
actually create something new. Alright? And he was one that created new techniques that
other chefs would use. And he's a good friend of ours. And he was always talking about "I
just wanna cook Mexican food. I think it's fascinating." I think because of the internet
or whatever we sort of, I hate using the word "postmodern." But the cooking world reached
this weird state of, like, what he was doing wasn't "punk rock" anymore. Like creating
new techniques and sort of being at the vanguard, was for him, being rebellious. Breaking down
rules and creating his own rules and when he saw that there were legions of cooks copying
him, and following his rules, he just thought it was over. And in a way he was completely
correct. And I thought the coolest thing he could've ever done was tell everybody "I'm
gonna quit cooking modern cuisine and I'm gonna make Mexican food." And people thought
he was out of his mind. He opened up a restaurant called Empellón, in the West Village and
that slowly turned into Taqueria. And he recently opened his place called Empellón Cocina.
And it's his take on Mexican food. It's more dish-heavy. And I think it's just fantastic.
It's delicious 'cause Mexican food, we just don't have a good representation of it in
New York. And he's doing extraordinarily good things and it, knowing Alex, , it suits him.
I don't know of anyone that's done anything as awesome as that. Sort of like, just turning
his back on everything he knew and relearning. I think that takes a lot of balls. So.
>>Pete: I think Brooks Headley who's the pastry chef at Del Posto. He just cut a seven-inch
record with one of the dudes from No Age. And it's actually punk rock.
>>Dave: But he was
>>Pete: Um.
>>Dave: But he is a punk rock. He was, before he became a pastry chef, he was in like, hard
core punk bands. So.
>>Pete: Yeah.
>>Dave: that doesn't count.
>>Pete: I don't know.
>>Dave: I mean he really is a rock star. [laughing]
>>Pete: It was a concise answer. [laughing]
>>Michael: [laughing] That's awesome. In the first issue you asked Uneo-san about his feelings
about tradition and authenticity. What are your feelings about that?
>>Dave: Who do we make fun of?
>>Pete: No, no, no, we asked Uneo-san at Bar Five.
>>Dave: Oh.
>>Pete: Um, I mean I think, authenticity is one of those traps that people get caught
up in when they talk about food. Specifically like ethnic or you know, ethnic food in America.
It'll always be like "Oh, that place isn't authentic." Or "Oh it's all Chinese people
there and it's really authentic." And it's not. It's this false measurement instead of
like, appreciating the deliciousness of the food and judging the restaurant on its own
merits. And I think that what Dave was saying about categorizing cuisine. Being less useful
that responding to the restaurant or the food specifically that's being served. But tradition
is, you know, tradition is tradition and that exists. Authenticity, I think, is sometimes
a false measurement to judge food by. Or, you know, it's not, it's used more like a
cudgel than it is like you know a precision measurement.
>>Dave: I think it's extraordinarily stupid.
>>Pete: That was concise answer.
>>Dave: Yeah, well no. I mean, it's like we're at this restaurant getting drinks last night.
And it was "The Best Hamburger Ever!" That's the name of their hamburger. And I was like,
"This is the dumbest name I've ever heard." And just, try, this pursuit of authenticity
again overshadows the pursuit of delicious. And you know what? You have restaurants that
import people from Italy. Entire fucking towns.
>>Pete: To make pasta.
>>Dave: And you know what, they import the flour. You know, pasta, there's three ingredients.
Flour, water, eggs. The water is extraordinarily important. It is full of microbes, it's full
of things that, the alkaline content could be different. These are all things that can
dramatically change the taste of pasta. The structure of pasta. And people are so caught
up in pursuing the marketing aspect of authenticity. Like "We serve authentic Italian food." No,
you're not. You're not in Italy. Shut the fuck up.
Just think of it vice versa, right? You've probably been abroad. Like you go to, let's
say, you're in Shanghai. Right? And you see some ex-pat serving authentic New York style
pizza. And your reaction is gonna be what? No. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
There's like, you know, soy sauce on the pizza. What the fuck are you talkin'about?
So that's the thing. I think it's easier to understand authenticity when you take a ex-pat's
point of view. It's like, I always use the, 'cause I did meet a German guy from Munich
that wanted to make American barbecue. He's like "I'm gonna make it authentic. It's gonna
be just like Memphis style barbecue." And I was like "No it's not gonna be Memphis style
barbecue. 'cause you're number one not using the beef that's coming from, any of the meat
that's coming from America. You're not using any of the wood from America. You're not even
using any of the workers, the hands, the invisible stuff. All the things that make something
special, that tastes the way it does at a unique area. So don't tell anybody you're
serving authentic American barbecue."
>>Pete: And it even goes to how we eat. It's like the difference between the way we eat
ramen here and the way we eat ramen in Japan. If you're not eating it the same way, if you
don't have the same cultural association with how you relate to that food. That inhibits
the potential for it to be authentically authentic. I mean, we both think that authenticity is
kind of like a red herring. But.
>>Dave: True.
>>Pete: it should be about the deliciousness of the food. Not about the story that goes
on with it.
>>Dave: I think it's more important instead of getting the authenticity down is understanding
what the flavors are of a particular region. And paying respect to that. And that again,
using Alex Stupak as an example. Here we are in New York and he's cooking food from various
regions of Mexico. Somebody that has a really encyclopedic knowledge of flavor profiles
of Mexico, but we don't have the same ingredients. So he's gonna try to mimic but not copy those
flavors. And in a way it's not Mexican anymore. It's New York. And I think that's really important.
[coughing in background]
>>Michael: I think one question that probably everyone in this room has is, why is there
not a Momofuku in LA yet?
>>Dave: Wow. Almost happened like four or five times. Different people. It's a sore
subject for Peter. 'Cause it almost opened up in his favorite hotel. Don't say it, 'cause
I'll get in trouble.
>>Peter: OK. I just coulda stayed there for like, free. It would have been crazy.
>>Dave: Ahhh.
>>Peter: It's really all about me, our relationship.
>>Dave: I think it'd be tough to open up in LA. It's not that I don't like to. I just
think it's a fast food culture. People have to drive. People don't drink. There's like
few restaurants that do multiple turns. And it's hard enough, and I don't know. Like,
maybe we'll do something but, I knew it was a bad idea to sort of think about opening
a restaurant in LA just because it would break up my layover to Australia. And that's not
a good enough reason to open up a restaurant. In fact, it's a really, really bad reason.
So as much as I'd like to. 'Cause the produce here is so great. And I've always maintained
that the best restaurants in the world, at least in America should easily come from southern
California. I mean, obviously San Francisco. Just, California just produces amazing things.
So. That is the draw. Because the product you get here. You have tomatoes already. The
salads. When we got here the first thing we wanted was "Let's eat salad. It's so good."
>>Pete: We have like apples and cabbage.
>>Dave: Yeah. We.
>>Pete: Most of the.
>>Dave: Can't grow apples like we do. But everything else is pretty amazing, is really
amazing. So, that's the temptation to open up a restaurant. Because the produce here
is so amazing. And, but, you know, I'm never gonna say never. But it's most likely never
going to happen.
>>Michael: We'll just have to make those trips.
Harold McGee wrote in one of the Lucky Peach issues that mold actually enhances some of
the flavor of produce. Speaking of produce. And Dave and Pete are doing a lecture tonight
at UCLA. The Science and Food series about the role of microbes in our food. Can we get
a little preview of what you will be talking about tonight.
>>Dave: Mold equals flavor. Microbes equal flavor. You don't see it but it does. And
so much of what we're doing right now at our test kitchen is developing misos and soy sauce
and fermented products. Vinegars. All these things that are extraordinarily delicious,
full of umami but are controlled rot. And it calls into question again our concept of
what is fresh, what is delicious. And sorta ties into, well basically a lot of it circles
and hovers around this taboo subject of MSG. Which, I think, using some terms from the
UCLA guys, I jokingly say, but sometimes I'm not joking when I say that it clearly suggests
a form of racism.
>>Pete: The fear of MSG.
>>Dave: Yeah. Fear of MSG. Which, people say they're allergic to. And I'm not saying they're,
I just believe that it happens to be possibly more psychosomatic than anything else. 'Cause
there's nothing that proves that MSG. In fact, all the studies, there have been many that
are, try to prove that MSG creates this Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. There's no evidence at
all. In fact, everything supports that it's psychosomatic. And we serve Asian food in
part, I'm particularly interested in it because we serve a lot of Asian ingredients and people
say "Oh, I can't eat your food because there's soy sauce in it." But they're happy going
to Bobo, eating a plate of pasta with tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.
>>Pete: Both of which are ingredients that are rich in
>>Dave: Glutamic acid, which equals umami. You know. And the only difference between
that and artificially made MSG is they add one molecule of sodium so you can disperse
the glutamic acid. Your body digests and breaks down glutamic acid the same way as one would
eat a bag of Doritos or anything else. Soy. Like, Doritos. You know, a plate of Parmesan
is extraordinarily high in MSG.
>>Pete: Yeah, one of the ongoing things in the magazine is campaigning for MSG.
>>Dave: At the very least I. [inaudible] it's true. You're making fun of me.
>>Pete: The first issue we had Harold explain the whole birth of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
was the title of a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine that was a question, not
a report.
>>Dave: Written by a Chinese guy. That sucks.
>>Pete: It's on that dude.
>>Dave: [laughing]
>>Pete: And then we had another article later about how there are flavor receptors in your
tongue for umami, for glutamic acid. It's just something interesting. 'Cause it's part
of, you know, savoriness. It tells you the food is good. So eventually we'll hope to
convince people that MSG is OK. Which is not to say that we cook, or you cook, with like,
>>Dave: Oh, no, no, no. But the question, here's the question: Why don't we use MSG?
We use all sorts of other ingredients that people don't have any problem not questioning.
But it's like the most taboo thing you could possibly add. And people know nothing about
it. They believe the media. They believe what's been told to 'em and it's just one of these
things that you know, until proven otherwise, all facts prove to the contrary. That MSG's
not bad for you. And it's not that we want to promote MSG. It's just, let's care about
real issues, not about, you know. And in a way, that's why I say it may be a form of
racism. Because, you have people who are like, "I can't eat this. I can't eat Chinese food.
Or I can't eat Thai food. Or I can't eat Korean food." But they can eat Italian food. And
that pisses me off.
>>Michael: [laughing] Well, I would like to now open the questions for anyone on the floor
who has questions for them. And we have a microphone in the back. You can step up.
>>Dave: No, you can just, we can hear you.
[audience murmuring]
>>Dave: I'll just, I'll just repeat, it'll be fine.
>>Dave: Oh yeah?
>>female #1: Hi guys, my name is Jess. I'm a huge admirer of both of you guys. I have
a couple comments and a question. Hopefully you won't mind given that much of my disposable
income has gone to fund Momofuku in New York.
My favorite issue has been the "sweet spot" issue. Especially the apricot article.
>>Peter: Adam Gollner?
>>female #1: Yeah, that article. I think you guys alluded to this earlier. Pretty much
redefined how I defined fresh fruits. And I've been lecturing. My husband's like, "OK,
I get it. We're not gonna get apricots here. We'll have to fly to Uzbekistan or wherever
it was that you guys featured."
>>Peter: It's really expensive to go to Tajikistan. And it's a really long flight; there are no
direct routes.
>>female #1: Right. So I contacted the vendor to see if I can get some delivered. But that's
ongoing. Anyway, that was a great article and I've been also talking to people about
the ikejime and I don't cook as much as I should. But your recipes is something that
I've, you know, put on my refrigerator just for inspiration.
>>Peter: We do those funny recipe layouts because we know, I mean, in any cooking magazine
you've ever bought, if you cook one or two things out of an issue. You're like, that
was useful. So we just try to make them readable and like, you know, if you read through it
you at least learn something about it. Whereas if it was just like a column of text maybe
you wouldn't be motivated to do that.
>>female #1: Great. And in terms of the restaurants David, I absolutely loved the shaved foie
gras at Coi. And if you ever get rid of that I will be very upset. I heard you have a tendency
to take stuff off your menu once they reach that popularity.
>>Dave: We're lucky that people like that dish but unlucky that people like it enough
that if we took it off the menu people would be pissed. So, um, we sort of have this unwritten
rule where we won't replace a dish unless we can exceed its deliciousness. And how people
perceive it. So, we're gonna have that on for a while. But if we're in California, we'd
have to take it off. 'Cause you have the dumbest legislation ever.
>>female #1: Chicago had it but I think they had a loophole.
>>Dave: No, they repealed that. Partly because, I don't know. It's, I mean, if you guys aren't
aware, the California has banned the sale and consumption of foie gras. Which is extraordinarily
short sighted I think. And, you know, there's other issues to, for anti foie protesters
to tackle like commodity chicken. That goes to chicken McNuggets and other terrible things
that go into food. But this is just a ridiculous topic. Like nobody, like 200,000 people a
year consume foie gras. It's something ridiculously small. But it's something that we dealt with
in New York and unfortunately that, the legislators love. 'Cause it's just their ability to pass
this is their ability to take, to tell voters that "We care about animal rights and the
welfare and the environment." 'Cause it's such a nonsensical topic that nobody really
cares about. So it's a pyrrhic victory for them.
>>female #1: Yeah. And in terms of non controversial foods. Your kimchi at Noodle Bar. As a fellow
Korean. Quite proud. Your mother must be very proud.
>>Dave: She thinks it's too salty.
>>female #1: She says it's too salty? I ate the entire jar by myself. I hate admitting
that, but I did it. And your wait staff kinda stared at me.
>>Dave: I'm glad you enjoyed it.
>>female #1: And then finally my question is, I know you spend a lot of time outside
of the kitchen now and my question to you is, how do you still stay involved with all
the different restaurants that you guys have around the world.
>>Dave: Man. Living out of a suitcase. No, we have a lab. It's a struggle. And I'm sure
that if you asked Larry Page and Serge of Google like how the hell do you guys keep
the spirit of Google alive as you guys have grown into this massive company? Right? It's
not as, it's not the upstart that it once was right? How do you maintain that philosophy
to stoke the fire, to stoke creativity, to stoke people to be excited and work for Google.
And I think that's the struggle that I'm always trying to figure out. I don't have that answer.
'Cause we do have so many employees. I never thought I'd get to a point where I don't know
anyone's name. I just don't. it's too hard. And not too hard, it's impossible. So, it's
a work in progress. As everything is. So.
>>female #1: Thank you.
>>Pete: Yeah, and check out, Adam wrote a book called The Fruit Hunters. Which if you
liked that article, you will enjoy.
>>female #2: Hi, I've a question for Dave. In the most recent issue of Lucky Peach, you
warned that dark days are coming in the culinary world.
>>Dave: Yeah.
>>female #2: Can you tell us more about what you think about that and do you mainly attribute
that to the Food Network, that celebrity type of culture that has pervaded the world? Culinary
schools? Or, just things are different now?
>>Dave: Things are different now. And I don't think you can attribute, I'm pretty pessimistic,
not pessimistic.
>>Pete: Yeah.
>>Dave: I'm pretty pessimistic. [laughter] About the future of the culinary world. Particularly
fine dining. I don't necessarily love fine dining. It's not that I don't love it, I don’t'wanna
eat it every day. I think that it's extraordinarily important that we continue to have the intensity
of fine dining. To teach cooks. So the loss of fine dining restaurants. The loss of, how
should I say? I use this as an example a lot. Like if you were an actor, if you were a star
football player in high school, you sort of know what's at the end of the tunnel if you
happen to be successful at it. You know that there's fame and fortune and media, whatever.
So you're a bit prepared for it. When I started to cook, or the generation before me. And
obviously everyone before that, that never existed. You just cooked and maybe one day
you were gonna be good enough to have your own restaurant. If somebody was lucky enough
to give you that opportunity. Now, with the internet and with TV, you can't blame cooks,
but now that option is available to them. So like an athlete, they know that if they
happen to be good at it. Or not even good at it. They're going to be able to gain some
notoriety or fame and it's changed everything. And the 40 hour work week has changed everything
as well. You know, I think that I was talking to the head of Brown University's medical
department. And he was saying, I was asking, are we producing better doctors now than we
were in the past? And he said, "No." [laughs] Basically, no. He didn't think so. Not necessarily
that they're worse. Kids aren't less intelligent or less motivated. It's just that systems
change. You know. They're more concerned about life-work balance. And when he was a medical
resident, you worked 100, 120 hours a week. And like two, three day shifts. Now, it's
regimented like eight, ten hours a day. Even if you wanted to go work 100 hours a week
at a hospital you wouldn't be allowed to particularly because of the insurance. And the liability
that you could murder, I mean, you could accidentally kill somebody. And you know, I've spoken to
other, you know, professionals, like a very well known person in the medical field. And
she basically said it's a good thing. You know. That cooks, not cooks, that doctors
aren't working those hours. Because it causes fatigue and it's not good. But the one agreement
that I have I think from these two esteemed gentlemen. Is that the medical profession
is that they feel that you lose intuition. You lose the ability to know how to cook.
And one of 'em was like, "Everybody wants to become a ophthalmologist. And a specialized
doctors. Nobody wants to become a surgeon anymore." Partly because there's a system
in place that makes them better. The technology makes the doctors better and then they actually
And I feel that if that's happening at the highest level of education in this country,
why wouldn't it affect what I don't, it's not the lowest but, a field that is certainly
lower in craftsmanship and skill than being a medical doctor. There's certainly a lot
more to know and to do. And if that's affecting the highest field, why wouldn't it affect
the culinary field. So if you just really look at, the hours you're supposed to work,
I think that's really put a, you can't learn how to cook in 40 hours a week.
You can't. Can you guys do your job in 40 hours a week?
>>audience member: Less.
>>Dave: Less? [laughs] for most people, you can't. But you guys are on salary and Google
makes a ton of money. Right? And but for the most part, cooking, you don't make a lot of
money. So you have to be able to, you gotta work more. And you do it for the love of it,
and if you're unable to work more. I don't know how much, right? But I think it's really
important for cooks that are starting out to really immerse themselves in it as much
as possible. And right now we have system in culinary culture that prohibits that. So
things are changing. And for that reason, I'm pessimistic. So it's not, I've nothing
against younger cooks. And just whatever they call them, the millennial generation? It's
not their fault. It's the, we, somebody has to figure out, devise a better way to teach.
And that's our job as chefs and cooks. We have to teach. And it's becoming more and
more difficult to teach.
And I'll just add one more thing. We have a lab and we're doing, I think, some cool
stuff with fermentation and new techniques. And just learning is a good thing. And I had
a cook that was like "Hey!" he was talking to the head of the lab. And he's like "I wanna,
I would love to learn how, what you guys are working in the lab." And they were like "Come
in on Wednesday, we have open office hours, we'd love to teach you, tell you what we're
doing." He's like "That's my day off, can't do that." [laughs]
You know, and if you don't have the, we can't force them to do it. We can, I don't know.
I'm actually, completely flabbergasted and trying to figure out how to encourage people
to want to learn more. And to want to be passionate about cooking. And it's something that I love
a lot. And I care a lot about. And it's extraordinarily troublesome to me to, I think it should, you
know, people should be excited about it on their own. They would want to learn. But I
don't know. I don't know what to do.
>>female #2: That's a very pessimistic view.
>>Dave: Well.
>>male #1: What's the 40 hour work week in kitchens. 'Cause that's not something I've
ever heard of being reality before.
>>Dave: Well, the 40 hour work week usually in New York and even in California, you work
40 hours, then after 40 hours you get overtime. In California, I think it's like two and a
half? What is it?
>>Michael: time and a half.
>>Dave: That's crazy. The margins in a restaurant are so small. And it's so hard, just staffing
out a restaurant. And then if you have to pay a cook time and a half and give 'em like
a lunch break. It's crazy. You need people to work. Kitchens don't have the luxury of
>>male #1: Well when you came up it was "Shift A", right?
>>Dave: Yes. Basically, worked.
>>male #1: So is there like a shift between, like, do restaurants don't do shift pay anymore.
They do hourly pay.
>>Dave: Well, shift pay is illegal.
>>male #1: I mean I know some line cooks and they don't work even close to 40 hours weeks.
>>Dave: I'm not saying everyone does. Alright? But for the most part it's headed that direction.
And again, if you step away from what we're at. 'Cause the culinary world and everything
that's happening is happening at such a rapid pace I don't think we have the perspective
to really see what the hell's happening. We don't have the time frame to have reflection
of what is happening. So you have to look at other cultures.
Look at what happened to Europe with the 40 hour, I think it was 36 hour work week. It
literally killed dining in France. I mean. There are restaurants that continue to employ
people and work at longer hours but for the most part, if you have the majority of country
or the majority of an industry working a set set of hours, it eventually diminishes the
talent pool. It diminishes your workforce.
And now, not everybody does. But maybe there, are they hourly employees, your friends.
>>male #1: I actually am not sure.
>>Dave: That's where you have
[audience member calls out something]
>>Dave: You have a sous chef and you work a lot. You work a lot of hours.
>>female #2: I'm going to end it with a more optimistic question. I have an 11 pound Mangalitsa
pork shoulder in my refrigerator right now. What would you recommend I do with it. Should
I just make a balsam?
>>Dave: It's a really easy recipe. And
>>Female #2: I know.
>>Dave: And Mangalitsa is a type of pig from Germany, I believe?
>>Pete: Is that the furry pig?
>>Dave: The furry one?
>>female #2: From Hungary.
>>Dave: It's like a woolly, yeah, Hungary. And it's got extraordinarily well marbled
fat in it. And it's just delicious type of pig. And, it was like a lost breed or something
and it came back. And it's really expensive so yeah, I'd throw a party.
>>female #2: But when there's so much fat, like, the simpler the better. Right? And that's
why I thought of the balsam recipe.
>>Dave: Well, there's only so much you can do with a pork shoulder, right? 'Cause, its'a
little bit sinewy. Like you could slice it thin enough to cook like thin steaks of it.
But for the most part you need to cook it, if you're gonna cook it whole, long enough
where, you know, the sinew and some of the muscle tissue is gonna break down. And that's
how you're gonna get that sort of braised meat sensation.
>>female #2: And do you have any tips that's not in your cookbook for that recipe.
>>Pete: So, it's simple. And stew. Just salt, sugar.
>>Dave: Yeah.
>>female #2: So I can't screw it up.
>>Dave: You can. But the likelihood of it happening is pretty low.
>>Pete: Yeah.
>>Dave: Especially you know, just put it in, and six, seven hours later, 300 degrees. You
should be ready to go. Even if it's 11 pounds.
>>female #2: Alright. I'll throw a party. Thank you.
>>Dave: thank you guys.
>>Pete: Thanks for having us.