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David Chang and Alex Atala on Questioning the Status Quo, Creativity, and Defining Their Cuisine

From left: Jeff Gordinier, Alex Atala, David Chang.
From left: Jeff Gordinier, Alex Atala, David Chang.
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

This weekend chefs David Chang of Momofuku and Alex Atala of D.O.M. in Brazil (currently ranked #6 in the world) did a TimesTalk discussion together as part of the annual New York City Wine & Food Festival. The conversation was moderated by New York Times food writer Jeff Gordinier.

In their conversation, Atala discussed his new book, eating insects, and his experiences training in France. Chang talked about creating misos and soy sauces from untraditional ingredients, the history of Momofuku, and why simplicity in cooking is hard to achieve. Both chefs touched on fermentation and rot, why they question the culinary "building blocks," and how they see their own cooking styles. Below, the top ten quotes from their conversation:

1) Atala, on building his own kind of cuisine: "Repetition is very important, but they never explain why. It's building blocks, but I didn't know what was inside ... I grabbed the building blocks and crashed them, and rebuilt my cuisine to try to understand why."

2) Chang, on the internet: "It so different for chefs today because we don't give them enough time to screw up ... Wherever there is no internet, that's where the next great restaurant will come from ... Ferran [Adrià] made mistakes for 20 years and nobody cared."

3) Atala, on creativity: "What is creativity? It's not to do something nobody's done before. It's doing what everybody does in a surprising way."

4) Chang, on the aesthetic of Momofuku: "All the aesthetics were just totally by accident ... We didn't have money. I didn't want an open kitchen. Who wants an open kitchen?"

5) Chang, on the origin of the Momofuku soundtrack: "It was my iPod. Nobody was there, might as well listen to music that what you want to listen to."

6) Atala, on yelling in the kitchen: "When I went back to Brazil, I was reproducing the behavior I had been trained with. But then I met my sous chef ... he's kind of like a lost Buddha ... [At La Mesa] it was just me and him in an open kitchen. I realized I cannot scream ... if I scream at him, I'll be alone."

7) Chang, on D.O.M: "Just because it's a casual atmosphere, don't let it mislead you that it's not a very serious restaurant with very serious ambitions ... You can have great food in a very casual setting, you can have ambition to be the best restaurant in the world."

8) Atala, on his three kitchen laws: "Do not run. Do not stop. Do not talk."

9) Chang, on questioning the culinary status quo: "What is right is put into question. What is fresh? Cheese and yogurt, that's rotted milk. Dy-aged beef, that's definitely rotted beef. What we perceive to be fresh is all marketing. We're trying to find flavor through all that bullshit."

10) Atala, on the Brazilian culinary scene: "In Brazil, gastronomy food is not included in the culture ... Food is to feed, not to express."

· All David Chang Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Alex Atala Coverage on Eater [-E-]