Chang worship: what’s it all about?

At the risk of doing a Mia Freedman – the magazine columnist and television show presenter who angered a sizeable chunk of the nation when she questioned why sports people are lauded as super heroes while surgeons, medical researchers and artists are rarely recognised for their contributions to society – I’m just going to come out and say it. Why has Sydney gone gaga over David Chang?

Much of city’s foodie fraternity is fawning over the New York fly-in like a group of schoolgirls lusting over the latest teen-bopper boy band.

Chang has just opened Momofuku Seiōbo at The Star (Sydney’s redeveloped casino) – the first destination outside of the US to score an offshoot of his Momofuku restaurant group. The gastronomic hotshot has had more local press than his customers have had pork buns – a Momofuku signature dish. Sydney-based food editors, writers and bloggers couldn’t seem to get enough of the Chang before he’d even opened the doors at his Sydney venue. He received the kind of pre-opening press that PR handlers have wet dreams about. It’s like one big sugar rush – a bit sickly, to be frank.

Admittedly, i haven’t eaten at Momofuku Seiōbo, yet. And some people might say  for that reason i don’t know what the fuss is all about. But it’s why we have to make such a fuss in the first place, that i’m questioning.

It’s not that I don’t admire Chang’s achievements, or appreciate what a culinary catch he is for Sydney. He nabbed a spot on the 2010 list of the Times 100 most influential people, and has earned two Michelin stars, after all. By bringing his unique Asian-American cooking style to Sydney, Chang has widened the trough, too. Diners, at least those who are prepared to fork out $175 a head and forfeit their money if they cancel within 24 hours, have a bigger – and perhaps more exciting – smorgasbord to nibble from.

He’ll probably inspire some teenagers to enrol in TAFE and study the culinary arts, and goodness knows the industry needs a bit of a kick along. I may not have eaten at Momofuku Seiōbo, yet, but I’m pretty sure that if I head to there – and it’s on my never-ending list of places to try – it will be a memorable experience. It may even blow my mind. But get off your knees people, please. The collective kowtowing is cringe-worthy.

I don’t know if Chang loves it or loathes it. Either way, it’s part and parcel of the celebrity chef circuit, so I guess we’ve all got to put up with it. But chefs – though I love to devour your good work, will readily recommend your best restaurants to friends, and admire your exceptional skills – I will save my adoration for the scientists and their medical breakthroughs, the doctors and surgeons who take our health into their hands and improve it, and the selfless souls who devote their lives to helping others less fortunate than themselves.

Enough said.

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10 Comments

Filed under Reflections

10 responses to “Chang worship: what’s it all about?

  1. Ah, a brilliant piece of writing, as always!

  2. Thanks Lizzy. That piece has been on my mind for a while. Good to get it down on paper.

  3. I’m sure Chang loves the hype about him, although I did read somewhere that he thought he wasn’t worthy of it. I was one of the many food bloggers who got caught up in the Momufuku craze and bought his book long before I even stepped inside one of his restaurants. At least I attempted my own version of his famous pork buns (making the steamed buns from scratch!) before I tried his. (Mine were pretty good, just in case you were wondering ;-))

    I have since eaten at both Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssäm Bar, and whilst they would not rank as the *best* meals I have ever had, they were not bad either. I think the foodie community has done well in contributing to Chang’s PR efforts, even though there are much more worthy chefs out there.

    I admit that it can be cringeworthy to see the press adoration for a chef, but it’s no different to any other celebrity. Perhaps other professionals, like doctors and scientists, need to engage in better PR??

  4. I’m very impressed that you made the pork buns … they do look great from all the photographs i’ve seen.
    But why are chefs even celebrities? And i suspect other professionals like doctors and scientists don’t seek the same sort of attention because they have something more important in sight: helping others, rather than seeking shallow celebrity status.

    • You’ve asked a really interesting question because I’ve been pondering it about it since last week, trying to “bite my tongue” and refrain from making a fool of myself on your blog ;-)

      The success of chefs mostly depend on the success of their restaurants. So I can understand the need for them to promote their restaurants – some are better at it than others and brave the world of TV and cookbook deals (i.e. you don’t see the chef from your local Chinese restaurant engaging in the same PR). And perhaps it is because I am interested in the happenings in the foodie world that I don’t mind reading about the latest ventures of some celebrity chefs.

      I agree that people like doctors and scientists should be held in high regard for what they do and that their contributions to society is a lot more meaningful and significant than others, but, on some level, chefs are also bringing positive benefits to society. I think Australia should be grateful that international chefs like David Chang would even consider opening a restaurant there, thus attracting attention to a city like Sydney and making it known to people elsewhere that Sydney is a destination for good eateries, that Sydney could be on par with other food meccas like Paris, London and New York. This in turn would, hopefully, encourage other (ahem) celebrity chefs to set their sights on Australia, thus encouraging local development and contributing to the local cultural and social scene.

      As someone who plans her travel destinations around places to eat, I think the establishment of a good dining scene is important, as shallow as that may sound given the more significant events that are taking place around the globe.

      Whilst I concede that the level of media attention given to some chefs is perhaps excessive, I would rather read about David Chang’s new restaurant than hear about what party Pippa Middleton was seen at last Saturday ;-)

      • LOL. I’d rather hear about chef shenanigans than Pippa Middleton’s exploits, too!
        I’m glad the piece and my response to your last comment was thought provoking. Ditto your latest response. Celebrity chefs certainly do attract attention to the cities they establish themselves in … just look at the exposure Jamie Oliver has received for setting up digs in Sydney’s Pitt St.
        And if it encourages others to set up shop in those locations – good stuff.
        But as much as i love reading about food and chefs and new restaurants – i don’t want the latest ‘chef celeb’ shoved down my throat every time i open a newspaper or read a column online. Maybe food writers need to get off the bandwagon and come up with original pieces, instead!
        And thank you for your well-considered response. You have offered another – valuable – viewpoint. You might enjoy this piece – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/sep/13/reality-check-please – provided by ‘hert0771′.

  5. Very well written piece thanks Rachel – and one I wholeheartedly agree with. While the David Chang furore hasn’t really filtered down much to Adelaide, I wonder the same about any celebrity chef – and about any celebrity in fact. I can’t see the why they are worth the fuss. Okay, they might cook quite well and be engaging, but until any of them actually do something to make a significant social difference in society – and not just distract us from real issues – I think I’ll reserve my judgement.

  6. I think the Chang thing is partly due to the ‘Pork Bun’ being the new ‘Macaron’….whether this is due to Chang or whether Chang is due the popularity of the Pork Bun is a little bit ‘Chicken and Egg’. However, I think that Jay Rayner’s piece on Celeb Chefs says it all: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/sep/13/reality-check-please

  7. I like your chicken and the egg observation – what came first Chang’s popularity or his pork bun’s popularity!! I read Jay Rayner’s piece when it was published – very eloquently put, i thought. He makes a very good point – chefs can harp on as much as they want but until they make a significant and sustained social difference to society – they should stick a pork bun in it!

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