The Daniel Boulud Restaurant David Chang Worked At Before Opening Momofuku

As one of America's most successful restaurateurs, chef David Chang's Momofuku has grown into an empire. But before helming his own restaurant group, the Michelin-starred chef cut his culinary teeth in many notable kitchens across New York in the early 2000s, including one by culinary legend Daniel Boulud. Before opening his first restaurant Momofuku Noodle Bar, Chang worked at Café Boulud in New York City's Upper East Side.

After a stint in Japan as a ramen apprentice, Chang returned to the city and worked at the Café Boulud under Andrew Carmellini, who, at the time, many said was in charge of the best run kitchen in America. Working at Café Boulud was tough — Chang worked 15-hour shifts, sometimes seven days a week. 

In his memoir "Eat a Peach," the James Beard award-winner recalls that not only were the hours brutal at the three-star restaurant but so were the intricacies that went into the dishes. Chang's station doled out oysters, canapés, a constantly changing amuse bouche, tuna carpaccio deemed "the most illogically labor-intensive dish" he's ever made, and a terrine crafted with "interlaced layers of smoked foie, potato, and apricot" that was both a "gorgeous presentation, as well as a significant pain in the a**."

Chang's realization in the trenches of Café Boulud

Willpower was key for survival at Café Boulud, according to Chang. However, the restaurant's difficult environment — coupled with trouble in his family's business and his mother's cancer diagnosis — took a toll on Chang's mental health and led to his departure six months early. Chang told The New Yorker that while saucing plates, his hands would shake, and here he had the realization: "Why can't I cook something simple?" All Chang wanted to do was cook noodles.

With that epiphany in tow, the chef opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2004. Before it was a success, the restaurant struggled in its early days. Chang credits cooks from various NYC establishments including Café Boulud for visiting the noodle bar after work, chowing down on their pork buns, and keeping business afloat. Chef Boulud himself would send his dinner guests to Chang's restaurant for lunch. Today, Chang's Momofuku group has expanded to locations across the country and even introduced a brand of products aimed at home cooks. 

During the pandemic, Boulud closed his eponymous café. However, if you want a taste of the famed restaurant where Chang once cooked, Café Boulud is set to reopen in the Upper East Side of New York at the end of 2023.