Chef and restaurateur David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, appeared at SXSW Saturday for a panel about the future of technology and dining. The pairing of topic and panelist was a touch ironic due to Chang’s uneasy relationship with technology.
“Everything tastes the same and the Internet made it so,” Chang said very early in the conversation, setting the tone for the hour-long chat. Chang wasn’t being a grumpy old (37 year-old man), but he obviously has strong feelings about the way instant communication has affected dining and chefs.
A chef needs to struggle to find inspiration and dream up new dishes and concepts. The instant information of the Internet has killed that dreaming process and struggle, Chang said, and it has also meant chefs have less room to make mistakes and work through trial-and-error.
“The only way you (expletive) up is if you don’t (expletive) up,” Chang said of taking chances as a chef and restaurant owner. “We are successful because we make the best mistakes.”
Chang talked about the expansion of his Momofuku brand, which also includes publishing the excellent food magazine “Lucky Peach,” and said that he didn’t get into the business to get rich. “I got into this business to cook.”
The Korean-American chef bemoaned the low wages of restaurant workers and the high price of doing business, noting that wages have not gone up since he started working in restaurants 15 years ago. Chang said he wishes his cooks could make $30-$40 an hour and be paid like union jobs. His love and respect for his team came up repeatedly during the spirited chat in which he said his main goals as a chef and restaurant owner are affordability, greatness and being a good custodian of resources.
“I want to make great food that is accessible,” Chang said. Along those lines, Chang rolled out his latets concept, Fuku, which will be centered around a spicy fried chicken sandwich. Despite being the owner of two Michelin stars, Chang said he is a “normavore,” someone who likes to eat normal food.
“If you don’t like Waffle House, I don’t like you,” he said with a mixture of humor and seriousness.
Matt Buchanan, editor of The Awl, did a good job routing the conversation back to tech throughout the hour, with Chang’s main point about tech and dining centering on the need to collect customer data in order to enhance the customer’s dining experience. For example: If a regular customer always likes to drink a certain bottle of wine, Chang wants to have that info loaded, so the restaurant can open that expensive bottle of wine six hours before the customer arrives, maximizing the quality of the wine drinking experience.