Sat, Mar 21, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Rebel chef says Web’s democratizing effect has ruined food

Momofuku restaurant chain founder David Chang says people’s desire for instant perfection has destroyed the creative process of creating new culinary dishes

By Alex Hern  /  The Guardian

There are many things the Internet can be blamed for, from revenge porn to Grumpy Cat, but celebrity chef David Chang has added a new item to the list.

“Everything tastes the same,” he says, “and it’s the Internet’s fault.”

Chang, whose culinary empire has grown over a decade from one noodle bar, Momofuku, to a group including more than ten restaurants, a cookbook and a quarterly magazine, Lucky Peach, argues that the much-vaunted democratization of information has had a pernicious effect on variation in food.

It was in that magazine that he first explored the argument, with particular emphasis on the foodstuff which his own restaurants focus on: ramen. Before the Internet, he wrote, “apprentices would learn from a chef, then work their way from taking orders to washing dishes and finally to working in the kitchen. Once they were good enough, the master would tell them to move on to another shop somewhere else.”

If you wanted to learn how to cook, “you’d order ramen books from Japan and wait weeks for them to arrive, so you could pore over the photos from across the planet,” he wrote.

Now, he wrote, “ramen is everywhere, and a lot of it is the same. I don’t want to go to every city and taste the same fucking thing. Everyone’s serving tonkotsu ramen, everyone’s serving pork. You could do a blind taste test and not have any idea where the fuck you’re eating.”

Speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Chang said that restaurant cuisine is hurt in more ways than one by the frictionless way the Internet enables chefs to get information all around the world.

“There are probably 10 Web sites about the best places to find ramen throughout the world... That’s fantastic, but it hurts the important demographic of the cooks. There’s no struggle, and I think it’s very important in any creative process that you endorse some sort of struggle,” he said.

At the other end of the scale, the rapid growth in food blogs and online conversation around eating out means that it is harder than ever for a young chef to make a mark doing something that is interestingly different, because the pressure to get it right first time is enormous, he said.

“One thing the internet prevents is trial and error. Everybody wants something instantly. That’s fantastic, but what it sacrifices is the process of fucking up. I’m sorry, but nobody is born a chef genius, it’s whoever makes the best mistakes. And right now the Internet puts people in the position where they have to get it right immediately,” he said.

“In Noodle Bar, we fucked up for nine months straight. Being told you’re going out of business is great, because it means you don’t care. We thought, ‘if we’re going out of business let’s fucking go out of business,’” he said — and that’s when his business took off.

“The only way you fuck up is if you don’t fuck up,” he said.

Despite being down on the Internet, Chang is by no means relentlessly anti-tech — although he expects more than the industry currently provides the restaurant sector.

“The existing stuff that’s there, it’s great, but it’s not awesome. I don’t think anyone’s like ‘man, I love OpenTable.’ You use it by default. We use it. But it’s not something you rave about,” he said. “That’s what we’re missing: Nothing’s amazing.”

The dream platform, he said, would mix the reservation, point of sale and inventory systems to offer something unique.

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