March 9, 2009

Sci-Fi Us, Part II

Hence, David Chang.

I was sent this link ages ago about the superstar chef and owner of Momofuku Ko, Ssam Bar and now Bakery and Milk-Bar. The profile is well-done and captures much of of his immigrant upbringing and I was asked along with the link what I thought about the article, about David's conflicted genius and his compulsions towards religion. And I could not come up with an articulate response no matter how hard I tried.

What came out finally was the blog post from yesterday and how David Chang to me is a poster boy of our generation. It touches on his obsession with perfection, his compulsion toward religion, his conflict-ridden psyche as well as his ability to deal with the madness of the professional world of cooking. Also, it touches on something close to my heart, probably a subject most sensitive to me recently - KA men and their identities. But that's another blog post entirely.

Can't wait to hear what you think.

posted at 01:37 PM by jenn

Filed under: general


03/25/09 07:43 PM

Hey Jen, is it too nosy to ask what you're writing along these lines? You know, so if we're overlapping I can let you do it for me and I can stop?

Meanwhile, here's more Korean food fusion:

p.s. your little boys are killing me with cuteness and brotherliness.

03/27/09 07:56 PM

no not nosy! i'm not sure quite what is yet - up until now i'd been strictly fiction and short story but i'm working with someone who sees book length non-fiction, almost memoir... but def. stories based on our gen. and our parent's... i thought about posting some older work but then didn't know why it would be interesting. what are you working on???

your kids bte are looking super cute and grown up these days!

03/30/09 04:09 PM

I thought this was a pretty funny (and accurate) look into the older generation:

And just finished reading this: It was both less deep and less funny than I would have liked, but I'm quibbling. I did like it and certainly related to it more than an Irish or Chinese immigration story, as you say. I had the same experience as you reading China Men, I empathized with it greatly but it was all entire foreign.

Okay, how is it that you're a KA writer too and we've never met? I also wrote only fiction but now I have to buy food and diapers so I've been writing articles and essays for all manner of horrible women's magazines, which all seem to be folding one by one. I'd love to know what you think about the Annie Choi book!

04/22/09 11:04 PM

David Chang is an utter fraud, and the only reason why he succeeds is because there are too many dumb white people in NYC who don't know better. The Korean food selection of his restaurants is a total joke -- I kid you not, some of his food comes straight from the frozen food section in 32nd St. H-Mart. (Most notably the 군만두 that he sells at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Compare it to 백설 군만두 next time -- they are identical.) His ramen cannot hold a candle to the ramen at Santoka, located the foodcourt of Mitsuwa in Edgewater, NJ.

How is my "aggressive" style? ;) Nice blog you got here.

04/23/09 09:36 AM

Ah, the artist as a fraud... It's hard enough figuring out what you want to do with yourself, much less go about doing it and then, the rewards of success.

It's an interesting question though, how an artist can be a fraud but I'd rather address your main assertion that there are too many dumb white people in NY who don't know better.

New Yorkers may be a lot of things but they do know food. They are quick to try new things but just as quick to pass judgement hence it is the hardest city in the US to operate a restaurant. Also keep in mind that Asians make up over ten percent of the population in NYC. I am pretty sure I've met most of them at Momofuku where the crowd is regularly predominantly Asian with the greatest representation from Koreans.

Also remember that he isn't trying to do traditional Korean food but the hardest of all cuisine which is fusion.

Btw, I shop at H-Mart and am quite a cook myself, I am flabbergasted at your comparison. You should definitely try that taste test again.

04/23/09 12:40 PM

Perhaps I should explain my own bias first -- my mother is from 전주, the birthplace of all Korean food that is worth discussing. Thus, my approach to Korean food is extremely purist. I didn't even think food in Seoul was that great, so you can see where I'm coming from. I also do realize that my experience is rather unique, and my stance is relatively rare -- and sometimes appears to be unreasonable. Fusion Korean food definitely ranks very, very low in my book.

That said, if I remember correctly, Mill Korean at 113th St. and Broadway got 19 for food at 2008 Zagat, ranking as the third-best Korean restaurant in New York City. I could not believe my eyes -- I wouldn't even feed Mill food to a dog. If that's not the dispositive proof about New Yorkers not knowing what good Korean food is, I don't know what is.

But your point about Asians mostly populating Momofuku is correct. Perhaps I should revise my statement -- NY is full of dumb white people as well as 2nd generation gyopos who don't know better.

04/23/09 04:48 PM

Okay well I am getting loud and clear you are #1 Son :) Remind me to NEVER cook for you also.

We are from N. Korea, just miles from the border to China so our tastes run mool-bop, naengmyun... just to say I am a fan of regional cooking but know my own bias as well.

I'm not sure real chow hounds ever looked to the Zagat's as a serious reference, it had it's place but New Yorkers tend to find things by word of mouth and simply, on foot. The Mill Korean btw is loved not because of the food so much as it was a comforting place for KA's at University, and because food is as much memory and experience, just like you mention, it rates highly. That plus even the worst Korean food tastes pretty good when you are smashed, which, is why one went to MIll Korean in the first place.

I've gone to Momofuku enough to know my own taste. I guess you are saying that my palette is not as distinguished as yours which could be true. But it's sad to me, kind of like the Literary scholar who can't enjoy an imperfect book, that you kind of missed the whole point of what David Chang accomplished.

He furthered along New American cuisine, created something new, and feeds a lot of hungry people. This is an accomplishment for any artist, especially chefs who are beholden to pleasing a crowd.

04/23/09 09:21 PM

Haha well, you got me there -- I am a firstborn. Even my Korean name means "Firstborn".

Really, I am sure your food is great. If I am invited to have someone's cooking, I am not there to judge; I would be thankful that I get to enjoy someone's creation. I am not very picky about what I eat either -- my daily food is mostly sandwiches, delivery Chinese food, and what I cook on my own when I have time. And I thoroughly enjoy the experience of eating them. (And, for the record, although I am a big critic on literature as well, I enjoy imperfect books for what they are.)

But when it comes to judging food, well that's an entirely different story. When it comes to that, I focus exclusively on the food. After all, food is what I eat and what gets me full. I don't eat the atmosphere, I don't eat the service, and I most certainly do not eat the experience.

From that perspective, I still maintain that Mill Korean is worse than dog food. This is not to say that I never had a good time at Mill. For example, I took my Korean friend there once, only because it was close and he had been stuck in Arkansas, deprived of Korean food for several months. He enjoyed the food there, and I had a good time because he enjoyed the food there. But that experience does not make the food better. It does not deserve a 19.

Actually, the worst offender among Korean restaurants in "scores enhanced by drunk patrons" probably is Gahm Mi Oak. Their soup has a distinct flavor of coffee creamer -- a cheap trick used by restaurants in Korea that do not actually put in the requisite 8 hours or more to make the white broth.

About David Chang -- I would like him a heck of a lot more if his restaurants dropped the pretension that they are serving something novel and original. Seriously, I often eat $1 fried lo mein from the carts on Canal St. without any complaint. But if someone dared to sell the same lo mein for $15 and call it by some fancy name, well, I would call him a fraud.

Did David Chang accomplish a lot? Sure. He is wildly successful -- I wish my career ended up half as successful. But he achieved that success by selling allure and images, not food. To me, food to David Chang is music to Britney Spears. Britney's success was not because of her music, but because of her face and boobs. Similarly, there is really no substance to Chang's food. He offers nothing special -- just the illusion that one is having something special through hipster decoration and fancy word play on the menu. For example, today's Momofuku Noodle Bar menu features "soy sauce egg", probably going at around $5 or so. Soy sauce egg is fucking 장조림! How dare he sell 장조림 for $5!! It's a fucking 반찬 that you are supposed to give out for free!!! I don't care if that's the world's best 장조림 -- you don't charge for a goddamn 반찬!!!! I can't stop screaming because it's so absurd!!!!!

Life is hard for us purists :)

04/24/09 08:49 AM

Your point about cheap tricks is well taken (but isn't it very Korean to cut corners?) but that doesn't address the fact that David Chang is not cooking traditional cuisine. So you can't judge him on that basis, otherwise it's just weird to critique his kimchee stew as my mom would. The whole point is that the dish has traditional roots and is responding to contemporary American cooking.

I also want to point out that what you say about arriving at a restaurant 'purely' to judge the food simply doesn't happen. As an eater, you arrive at the table with a long and profound relationship with food, and you will bring all of that to the table before the first bite enters your mouth.

There is much writing on this if you are into that kind of writing btw.

Now as for David Chang's food being Britney's Boobs. All food and the whole concept of selling food is as commercially subject as anything else. I know I don't need to remind you of that, and pricing is it's own delicate game.

Chefs do not typically fare well financially. They slave in a way over their work and are subject to common denominators in a way that separates them from other artists. Even fashion designers have an easier task. This is why most chefs who last are usually odd, vehement, broken creatures with the rare exceptions of say Alice Waters or Thomas Keller (who are obviously from Northern California) and often, broke. It's the investors who often have a strong say in how things are marketed and what the returns must be like.

In any case. It sounds me to that in your experience David Chang has that same hounding issue of consistency. As a chef with many kitchens no matter how huge your personality it is an everest of accomplishments and part of why, we rate chefs with stars. It tried to judge chefs on a scale so as not to overlook their accomplishment but also to demonstrate where they might be lacking in excellence.

Now as much as I enjoy your passion for food, I'd ask you to consider Koreans are very much prone to passionate extremism. .. and this has served us as badly as it has good.

04/24/09 08:33 PM

I swear, I'm only like this when it comes to Korean food. I am very reasonable otherwise. :) Also, point taken on the fact that the market really dictates what a chef sells. I admit that this is the part where I totally become unreasonable -- I essentially want chefs to turn down money if they do something I don't like. I know this is unreasonable. But it's fun to argue that point anyway :)

I think I pretty much laid out my thinking about David Chang, so I think I will leave that topic. But just one quick thing you said...

isn't it very Korean to cut corners?

Oh no. Not at all. Not the good ones. Especially in Jeonju, restaurants that cut corners never survive. But I will say this -- Korean restaurants in New York definitely cut corners, because customers don't demand good quality. They just don't know. Superior Korean food could come and hit them in the face, but they won't recognize it. And then the good restaurants will go out of business because they don't compromise.

Case in point: J Marc at Tribeca. Now, that was a very legit place -- probably the only Korean restaurant of which I genuinely approved in Manhattan. My friend personally knew the chef; he used to work at the Korean restaurant at Westin Chosun Hotel, which is probably one of the best general Korean restaurants in Korea. Every food in that restaurant was done right - for god's sake, they actually served regular doenjangguk instead of the goddamn miso soup that these Korean restaurants serve. But that restaurant did not even last a year. The chef was a good chef, but not a good businessman; he refused to have delivery service for the first few months because he was convinced that delivery ruins the taste.

Compare that to Kori in Tribeca, which has the nerve to sell ddeok-ramen for $9 and does not give banchan(!!). But because people like the decoration and the cocktails that have nothing to do with Korea or Korean food, it does brisk business. This type of stuff just drives me insane,

04/27/09 06:13 PM

re: "cutting corners" I meant that a bit tongue in cheek but I enjoyed what you had to say. one more note though about the market and marketing, i think restaurants in tribeca necessarily would have to charge high prices because their overhead is worse than say, hell's kitchen.

i do agree though with the spirit of what you are saying, that there must be some better way to remain true to korean cuisine such as 'free' banchan and rice (though is food ever free in a restaurant? you are paying for location, decor, et.) it chaps my ass when i have to pay for naan in an indian restaurant or daal. at least in the middle eastern places in my neighborhood you still get the soup, rice and cinnamon tea as a part of their hospitality culture.

cheers mr. k!

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