How David Chang's Idea Of Perfection Changed Over The Years

Even for an accomplished chef like David Chang, the bar for perfection moves. As told to Food & Wine on their "Tinfoil Swans" podcast, Chang admits his barometer for measuring the performance of his kitchen and dishes has changed throughout his career — and he's eased up a bit on what it means to strive for excellence.

"I think I'm only trying to finally come into my own now," he said on the podcast while reflecting on his journey as a culinary expert. "Perfect to me, back then, was excellence done at a level that was European or three-Michelin-star or something like that." While Michelin rankings are often the benchmark for many chefs, Chang states his focus has since shifted to the way in which work is done and the integrity of the cooking process. "Perfect to me is Michael Jordan — you have the best athlete matched with the best work ethic and integrity," he said.

Finding middle ground

Chang admires the ability to change and grow, recognizing that perfection comes from the intent and the process of the work, not necessarily the finished product or a beautifully plated dish. "Perfect really is less about the physical results of it and more that can you grow, can you change, can you be perfect in your intent?" he marveled to Food & Wine.

Admittedly, Chang recognized that early in his career, his focus was not on the process or the learning aspect of his time in the kitchen. "I was so ridiculously stupid. Caring about rankings and stars and position. Caring about being cool. It's so dumb, I think about this all the time." Chang explains that his desire now is not to be necessarily relevant but to be effective. 

This confident approach is echoed in an interview with Wired, in which Chang explains the ability to find a middle ground even when preparing a dish. "When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt," he said. "It is fully committed to being both at the same time." If any chef can straddle this line of delivery and perfection, it is Chang.