In case you missed it a few months ago on PBS, the excellent The Mind of a Chef is out in downloadable form on iTunes and at Amazon. The first episode is available for free on the PBS site for try-before-you-buy purposes.
The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginobili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap ("A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese." Wherever possible, the menu items' descriptions should reflect local English style). Maybe a bowl of Malaysian McDonald's Chicken Porridge or The McArabia Grilled Kofta, available in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. You should watch this McArabia ad for the Middle Eastern-flavored remix of the "I'm Lovin' It" song if for nothing else.
And I loved his take on fast food as molecular gastronomy:
How much difference really is there between McDonald's super-processed food and molecular gastronomy? I used to know this guy who was a great chef, like his restaurant was in the Relais & Châteaux association and everything, and he'd always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald's food that he didn't know how to make. I've often thought that a lot of what makes crazy restaurant food taste crazy is the solemn appreciation you lend to it. If you put a Cheeto on a big white plate in a formal restaurant and serve it with chopsticks and say something like "It is a cornmeal quenelle, extruded at a high speed, and so the extrusion heats the cornmeal 'polenta' and flash-cooks it, trapping air and giving it a crispy texture with a striking lightness. It is then dusted with an 'umami powder' glutamate and evaporated-dairy-solids blend." People would go just nuts for that. I mean even a Coca-Cola is a pretty crazy taste.
I love both mass-produced processed foods and the cooking of chefs like Grant Achatz & Ferran Adrià. Why is the former so maligned while the latter gets accolades when they're the same thing? (And simultaneously not the same thing at all, but you get my gist.) Cheetos are amazing. Oscar Meyer bologna is amazing. Hot Potato Cold Potato is amazing. Quarter Pounders with Cheese are amazing. Adrià's olives are amazing. Coca-Cola is amazing. (Warhol: " A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.") WD50's Everything Bagel is amazing. Cheerios are amazing. All have unique flavors that don't exist in nature -- you've got to take food apart and put it back together in a different way to find those new tastes.
Friendly reminder: ten episodes of Anthony Bourdain and David Chang's Mind of a Chef are available to view for free on the PBS website. I am through two episodes so far and it's my favorite cooking/food show since The Naked Chef.1 Here's the first episode, all about ramen:
How had I not heard about this before now? The Mind of a Chef is a PBS consisting of sixteen half-hour shows that follows David Chang through his world of food. As far as I can tell, this series is basically the TV version of Lucky Peach. Episode one is about ramen:
In the series premiere, David dissects the roots of his passion for ramen dishes and tsukemen on a trip to Japan. Learn the history of this famous noodle as David visits a ramen factory, has a bowl of the original tsukemen, and examines how alkalinity makes noodles chewier and less prone to dissolving in broth.
Check out an excerpt here, in which Chang reveals how he used to eat instant ramen noodles right out of the bag with the pork flavor powder sprinkled on top. The series starts this weekend...check your local listings, as they say. (via ny times)
4 things I'm interested in: The Roots, David Chang, fried chicken, and Twitter feuds between chefs and musicians, which is why I was so excited to see Questlove of the Roots and David Chang of Momofuku go back and forth last Wednesday. In the past, Questlove has criticized Momofuku's fried chicken game, and now that Questo's in the game himself, Chang feels a competition on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is in order. The specifics and timing of the throwdown have not been defined, but one thing is clear, in a fried chicken battle between Questlove and David Chang there is at least one winner (wait for it): all of us.
Mr. Chang said that he had talked to television networks about doing a program, but that this offered more freedom and more possibilities, as well as providing research and development for his restaurants. "We were able to go a little deeper than we could have on TV, without being constrained by the networks," he said. "They wanted yelling. They wanted everything but education."
There will also be one large meal, a free picnic in Central Park where eight chefs will each contribute a dish to what Luc Dubanchet, the founder of Omnivore, calls a "bento box performance." Then there will be a series of demonstrations at the Alliance Francaise, master classes held by an impressive roster of French and American chefs (the final program is still being decided).
If they came to Lutèce, if they came to my kitchen, yes. I would not go out. If they asked me to go to Chicago to do a fund-raising dinner, it was, "No." If they asked me to come to give me a prize or whatever, I said, "Only on Sundays, when I'm not in the kitchen." I was sort of a slave to my restaurant. And my wife too. I don't say it was right. Today, I maybe say it was wrong. Years ago, in Paris, we had no money. But when we were more comfortable, maybe twenty years later, I said, "Simone, you know, you've paid your dues and everything, I buy you whatever you wish." I was thinking to buy her a ring or a necklace or something like that. "Whatever you wish, tell me." She looked at me and said, "Take me to a movie." For twenty years, I hadn't taken her to a movie. I woke up. I said, "Oh my God, what did I do to my wife?"
And finally but wonderfully, a timeline of food in NYC. The first McDonald's opened here in 1972 and Starbucks in 1994. Hanger steak was big in 1990.
David Chang, AKA Captain Fucking Pork Bun, and his food producers are growing uneasy about the breakdown of the sustainability of the "Crazy Eddie abundance of the American agricultural industry".
The machinery that's pumped so much meat into our lives over the last half century was never built to last, and now it's breaking down big-time. Feed is more expensive. Gasoline is more expensive. Milk, rice, butter, corn -- it's all going through the roof. And for the foreseeable future, it's not coming back down.
British architect David Adjaye observed that not only are public buildings built for "the public" but they also create "the public" by establishing a space for it to exist. I guess by the same token, buildings built for private citizens also create private citizens...hence, eventually, gated communities and the like.
Adjaye also described his native Africa as layered combination of its different eras: colonialism + nation building + European + Islam + urban/capitalist.
The chefs panel, with Bill Buford interviewing Daniel Humm, Marc Taxiera, and David Chang, was the most entertaining of the day. Right at the end, David Chang told a short anecdote about a customer who complained to him about the amount of fat in the Momofuku pork bun...pork as in pork belly and pork belly as in mostly fat. Chang told him that's the way it came and that he wasn't getting a replacement. Shrugging, he told the audience he had a different idea about hospitality than most restaurateurs..."the customer is not always right".
Michael Novogratz, the 317th richest American, explained the current financial crisis. Goes something like this. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of China and India for both trade and labor laid the groundwork for globalization. Lots and lots of cheap labor available made for cheap goods and low inflation. Between early 2003 and late 2007, globalization kicked into high gear and people thought, this is it, this is the end of inflation forever. But the workers in Eastern Europe, India, and China gradually became consumers. They bought TVs and cars and better food and whaddya know, inflation is back. The bubble burst.
I required redemption. When I arrived home two weeks ago after work, I was informed by my wife that I'd forgotten our anniversary. Eep. To partially make up for my cliched gaffe, I put my efforts towards getting a reservation at Momofuku Ko...the notoriously hard-to-get-into Momofuku Ko.1 We're big fans of the other two Momofukus, so I logged into their online reservation system and happened to get something for last Friday night.
But this isn't a story about their reservation system; too many of those have been written already. Bottom line: the food is wonderful and should be the focus of any Ko tale. Two dishes in particular were the equal of any I've had at other more expensive restaurants. The first was a pea soup with the most tender langoustine. The second dish, the superstar of the restaurant, was a coddled egg with caviar, onion soubise, and tiny potato chips (photo). Didn't want that one to end. And I didn't even mention the shaved foie gras (with Reisling built right in!) or the English muffins amuse or the nice wine pairings.
1. I spent all of five minutes on a Saturday morning making the reservation on the Ko web site. It can be done.
2. Chang and co. are serious about the web site being the only way to get into the restaurant. As we were leaving after our meal, a friend of Chang's and bona fide celebrity stopped in to say hi. After some chit chat, the fellow asked if he could get a reservation at Ko for the next evening. Chang laughed, apologized, and told him that he had to go through the web site. They're not kidding around, folks. ↩
Just because we're not Per Se, just because we're not Daniel, just because we're not a four-star restaurant, why can't we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable for not only our own actions but for everyone else's actions, we're gonna do some awesome shit. [...] I know we've won awards, all this stuff, but it's not because we're doing something special -- I believe it's really because we care more than the next guy.
Reading the article, it appears that Chang is using Michael Ruhlman'sThe Soul of a Chef as a playbook here. Caring more than the next guy is right out of the Thomas Keller section of the book...with his perfectly cut green tape and fish swimming the correct way on ice, no one cares more than Keller.
Three years ago, David Chang was an obscure cook with a failing Manhattan noodle bar. Now he is being hailed as the most innovative and exciting chef America has seen in decades.
Decades? Please. I'm not backing down from my effusive review of Ssam Bar (Ssam Bar is one of my favorite restaurants of all time), but this decades business is bollocks. Just let the man (and his collaborators) cook and open more yummy restaurants.
Taking advantage of a burst steam pipe in our bedroom and the slushy weather, the wife and I finally ventured out to Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Due to the icy sidewalks, the place was less than jam-packed so we were seated immediately. From our seats at the bar, we could see David Chang slicing ham and utilizing the one-for-me-one-for-you plating technique. Hholy Ccrap, what a place!
I could go on and on about the food -- it's some of the best I've had in the city -- but equally impressive is how the place feels and how fun it is to eat there. The staff seems imported wholesale from one of Danny Meyer's restaurants...the service is friendly and enthusiastic and genuinely loves when when you're excited about the food. The music ranged from the Pixies to Metallica to Bob Dylan while we were there and was at just the right volume. The vibe is more relaxed than at the Noodle Bar...the food is less "street" and "on-the-run" so you feel less rushed in your meal. The beverages are a casual and interesting mix; we had a taste of a sparkling Shiraz from The Black Chook...fizzy like champagne and red like, well, red wine. In the opening paragraphs of his recent review of Ssäm Bar, Frank Bruni does a great job capturing what's so good about the place:
It has also put a greater premium on service, distinguished by attentive young waiters with more knowledge and palpable enthusiasm about the menu than many of their counterparts at more conventionally polished establishments.
And it has emerged as much, much more than the precocious fast-food restaurant it initially was. By bringing sophisticated, inventive cooking and a few high-end grace notes to a setting that discourages even the slightest sense of ceremony, Ssäm Bar answers the desires of a generation of savvy, adventurous diners with little appetite for starchy rituals and stratospheric prices.
They want great food, but they want it to feel more accessible, less effete. They'll gladly take some style along with it, but not if the tax is too punishing. And that's what they get at Ssäm Bar, sleek, softly lighted and decidedly unfussy. Most of its roughly 55 seats are at a gleaming dark wood counter that runs the length of the narrow room, though these seats afford more elbow room than exists at the much smaller Noodle Bar.
And ok, a word or two about the food. Is it even Asian? It's more like food that tastes fantastic and you can eat with chopsticks. I would describe it as truly international food, drawing upon many influences without being obvious about it. And who cares anyway...Chang could put Swedish food on the menu and make it work. I have no real evidence or experience to back this up, but the approach to food at Ssäm seems like a new one to me, a new type of cuisine, an approach that values the tastiness and the end result over regional influence and style1. We'll see how that prediction works out.
 Maybe I like this approach so much because it reminds me of the way in which I edit kottke.org. This isn't a tech site or a design site or a pop culture site or a news site...I'll put anything on kottke.org as long as it's interesting, topic be damned. ↩
Profile of "radical chef" David Chang and his restaurants, Momofuku Noodle Bar (one of my favorite restaurants) and Momofuku Ssam Bar, an Asian version of Chipotle. After a vegetarian customer threatened to sue Chang for not offering vegetarian broth, he took all but one of the veggie options off the menu. "We added pork to just about everything[...] Fuck it, let's just cook what we want."