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David Chang’s New Food Mag ‘Lucky Peach’

Above: The first issue of Chang's new magazine "Lucky Peach" is devoted to ramen noodle dishes.

Aired 6/23/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

David Chang knows ramen noodles. His Momofuku restaurant empire is known for signature ramen dishes. It's appropriate that he focused the first issue of his new food journal, "Lucky Peach," on the Japanese noodle dish. We'll talk with Chang about food, television, and experimentation.

Rock star chef David Chang. The founder of the Momofuku empire of noodle bar, restaurants and bakeries is now editing a new iPhone app and food magazine called "Lucky Peach."
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Above: Rock star chef David Chang. The founder of the Momofuku empire of noodle bar, restaurants and bakeries is now editing a new iPhone app and food magazine called "Lucky Peach."

David Chang knows ramen noodles. His Momofuku restaurant empire is known for signature ramen dishes. It's appropriate that he focused the first issue of his new food journal, "Lucky Peach," on the Japanese noodle dish. We'll talk with Chang about food, television, and experimentation.

Guest:

David Chang is a New York chef-restaurateur. He's also the editor of a new food journal called "Lucky Peach" published by McSweeney's.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Why do Americans settle for mediocre food? This conversation is one of the attractions of air new glossy food magazine from one of America's most innovative chefs, David Chang. He's created the Momofuku restaurant in New York is out with the latest issue of lucky peach. Hi David.

CHANG: How you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Congratulations.

CHANG: Thank you very much. It's been a crazy thing happened.

CAVANAUGH: I understand you were in San Diego earlier this week. I gotta ask you, where did you eat?

CHANG: I wanted to check out a bunch of places, but we didn't really have time to eat anything. We had to rush back to LA. I used to go to San Diego a lot. My brother used to live out there for many years. It's been a while. So I don't really know exactly where, but I just -- I have to go check out San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: I'm so upset!

CHANG: I know it. I'm so bummed. I thought we'd be able to at least --

CAVANAUGH: Nothing?

CHANG: My friend, chef Tony DiSalvo has a restaurant, and to just check out the food scene there. But I haven't had the chance.

CAVANAUGH: Let's talk lucky peach. First explain the title.

CHANG: Lucky peach means -- Momofuku, the name of our restaurant in New York also translates roughly in Japanese to lucky peach.

CAVANAUGH: I see. You also created an iPhone app called lucky peach, which makes a lot of sense in today's media world. Why did you go with a magazine?

CHANG: We had worked with McSweeney's, the publishers based out of San Francisco. Dave Eggers is the head of it. And we worked with Chris Ying, and they had published a 300 page or more, a very, very thick volume of a newspaper called the panorama. And we helped with their section on ramen. And as we were sort of filming and getting everything ready for the app, we just thought that there were a lot of things that might not make -- anything that got edited out, we felt that, wow, some things might be better told in written form instead of with someone else's voice. We wanted to create something, not just old school media, but something you could read on its own or as an accompaniment to the iPhone app.

CAVANAUGH: You are so good on TV and videos of everybody's doing a TV cooking show. Why didn't you decide to go that route?

CHANG: I don't know. I guess reality TV wasn't necessarily something I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on something that, if I was gonna do TV, it needed to be educational. I needed to support the restaurants and fund research and development for the restaurants. I think going on TV just for TV's sake was not why I became a cook.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

CHANG: If I was gonna do anything that was in front of a camera, how educational. So that I could at least go to bed at night and feel good about myself, or try to.

CAVANAUGH: You just dedicated the first issue of lucky peach to a dish that's close to your heart, the Japanese noodle dish, ramen. You are a true advocate for this dish. What will readers learn about ramen if they pick up this first issue of lucky peach?

CHANG: Well, I think they'll learn about a food culture is massive in another country. And that obsession in that country is similar and akin to, say, the pizza and barbecue craze you have in America. And I think that there's this under current at least among chefs and cooks and a lot of people wherever I go, oh, I wish we had a ramen place or I wish I knew more about ramen. So we thought it would be a good jumping off spot for -- to talk about food in general and to educate people about ramen in English. There's plenty of books about ramen in Japan. There's monthly magazines about ramen. But it's a food group that people know quite a bit about because of instant ramen, but they don't know the history behind it, why they're eating it.

CAVANAUGH: I see. I also want to bring up the fact that you did a little acting turn on HBO this Sunday on the show, Treme. How did that come about?

CHANG: I would do anything for David Simon.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

CHANG: I think that what he does and his views and philosophies about the world I would -- I just agree with, and I think that the wire was just a fantastic thing. And the first season of Treme was so great that I couldn't say no. I never thought that I'd be a character on a TV show. But -- initially, I thought it was just gonna be food consulting which I would have done anything -- I really would have taken out the trash for these guys. But I wound up playing a version of myself, which is weird.

CAVANAUGH: Are you gonna be on again? Are you gonna repeat your role?

CHANG: I think I'm allowed to say yes. Yeah. Just a very small role. I'm not an actor. I have a massive respect for the acting profession and what the guys at Treme do. It's really amazing. The entire staff, the production. I learned quite a bit about an industry that I never thought I'd ever be in. And it takes a lot of patience and hard work and team work to pull off something that's on TV.

CAVANAUGH: Finally, David Chang, I want to ask you about that conversation that is in this first issue of lucky peach. Did you ever figure out why Americans do settle for mediocre food?

CHANG: Well, I think what we settle on was -- it's mediocrity tends to settle into America because people are not -- they're averse to taking a risk. And I always liken it to being a wall flower. There's no point in being a wall flower. There's nothing to lose. And it seems that as a culture, we're not encouraging risk takers. And those are the people that change culture and try to strive to be better. My friend, gen Nakamura, told me we have a culture of failing upwards. If you just do enough not to ruffle anyone's feathers or question the status quo, you're just gonna get promoted for just being there.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell our listeners, if they would like to take a risk and see really some gorgeous food photographs as well, the first issue of lucky peach is out on news stands and on iPhones everywhere. I've been speaking with chef and restaurateur David Chang. Thank you very much David.

CHANG: Thank you so much for having me. I have to be -- I'll be in San Diego soon. I promise.

CAVANAUGH: Eat something!

CHANG: I will, I will.

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