Jun 11, 2013

A Blank Box

Dining + Design
A Conversation with
Anwar Mekhayech

Chef David Chang, Momofuku
Answar Mekhayech, Co-founder, The Design Agency
Drew Salmon, business partner, Momofuku
Moderated by Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice-President, James Beard Foundation

New School, Monday, June 10.2013

Who doesn't want to hear David Chang talk about food? Buying a ticket, I knew from the get-go,  the topic of conversation at the New School was the interaction between the culinary experience and the physical design of the restaurant. Conceptually, it struck me as a great idea, but the reality was far different.

For many people, David Chang is a food guru.   His ever expanding empire is a testament to the popularity of his menus and ideas.  Chang's  latest venture in Toronto, 4 restaurants stacked one on top of the other  represents the diversity of Chang's mindset. From noodle bar on the first floor to high-end tasting menu on the top floor, the Toronto restaurants are a departure from the Chang look and feel.  They are designed.

This was the point Chang wanted to make.  His first restaurant, noodle bar in New York was not designed.  It functioned by default.  He found a space that he could afford.  This space like all his other restaurants, not including Toronto, were made into restaurants by the cheapest possible means.  The fact that one had to walk through the kitchen or the lack electricity to air-conditioned the space was the Chang way.  "The food is the thing.  I never think about details, like the bathroom."  Customers can put up with a lot for great food.

Chang delivers.  He named some of his favorite restaurants.  All of which are fancy and expensive.  Chang started to laugh.  "The flowers at Gramercy Tavern are beautiful.  When I think about them, I am so glad we don't have flowers at any of my restaurants.  We just have a blank box."

It was a simple message:  one not of form following function or even the other way around.  "The desperation to make ends meet, makes me think about the food and only the food."