Why David Chang Stepped Away From The World Of French Fine Dining

Foodies everywhere have gotten to witness the rise of Momofuku from a standalone East Village ramen joint to a world-renowned culinary empire. But in his 2020 autobiography "Eat a Peach," David Chang offers a glimpse into his struggles with navigating the professional dining scene that helped him discover his true values and goals when it came to cooking.

In an interview with NPR, Chang says that, as he began to travel abroad, the things he observed made him "[want] to get out of French dining or fine dining in general." The economic disparity and elitism often inherent to fine dining soured his view of it. "When I was in China, you could eat literally on 75 cents very well, but you couldn't do that in America," says Chang. "And I thought to myself, well, if you wanted to enjoy food in America in the late '90s, early aughts, if you told anybody, 'I like to go out to dine,' that was seen as elitist and snobbish, and that wasn't the case outside of the world ... Why [in America] don't we have something that's a little bit more accessible, a little bit more affordable?"

Leading the scene in the name of accessibility

The idea that the best food in the world can only be accessed by people with lots of money puts a bad taste in a lot of folk's mouths. This was highlighted last year with the release of the class-conscious dark satire, "The Menu," in which a group of supercilious diners gets their comeuppance. According to the industry data analytics platform, Chef's Pencil, the average cost to eat at a two-Michelin-starred establishment is $252 per person; at a three-starred restaurant, it's $357 (before drinks and tip). 

As Chang has demonstrated with his efforts, this tide can be shifted, and some of the best food available can be had for folks with 20 bucks in their pockets. The Momofuku Noodle Bar on First Avenue in Manhattan has been given the honor of the Bib Gourmand, an award given by the Michelin Guide for "good quality, good value cooking."

Daniel Boulud himself — the unofficial King of French Fine Dining — sings Chang's praises for one of Momofuku's signature yet most humble dishes: the pork bun. "I think every chef is remembered for a few dishes, even if he created a thousand of them," Boulud told First We Feast. "You could have had pork buns before, but once you have the one of David Chang, you don't want to go back anywhere else."