Maybe David Chang was inspired to go into the pork business by fat men in snouts.
It's unlikely, but not out of the question. Between the burgeoning global restaurant empire,the publishing spot, the Treme bit, and the sidekick gig, Chang still finds time to keep tabs on the sports landscape. We spoke to him just before Jeremy Lin blew up, not far from his Mother Peach. As usual, Chang was way ahead of the curve on this one.
Patrick Sauer: Until recently, your Twitter avatar was Wes Unseld. Are you a big Wizards fan?
David Chang: To me, they will always be the Bullets and Wes Unseld is the Bullets. He was retired by the time I started watching, but he was always part of the organization and I always liked him. He’s the only link to their championship year, and arguably the best Bullet ever. He was playing center at 6’7” and just relentless. Everyone talks about Kevin Love’s full-court chest passes, but Wes was first. He was an animal, and the Afro, you can’t beat it. 1978, that was our last championship and we haven’t done a damn thing since.
Patrick Sauer: Is it easy to follow sports spending all yours days and nights in restaurants?
Chang: Once you start working in the kitchen, no matter what you do, you never get to watch games. TV just isn’t a part of your life anymore. Eventually, you even stop watching football. I play fantasy, but that’s more to keep in touch with friends. I read more about sports than watch them. It’s a pleasant distraction late at night or early in the morning. The only time I see games is in person. I follow the Redskins, but it’s different because a lot of it is just checking the score. It’s not like the old days when my week was ruined if the Skins lost. But then, we’ve also sucked for fifteen years.
Sauer: Across cultures and backgrounds, sports can be a universal language. Is that true in the kitchen?
Chang: Sports are one of the few things I think I understand, and I will use as many analogies as possible. Anything that helps me understand what the hell is going on in the cooking world.
Sauer: Is there any sport in particular that dominates kitchen conversation?
Chang: New York restaurant world is an immigrant population, so it’s always fun when the guys go apeshit during the World Cup. There is a lot of pride for their home country soccer teams. It’s funny though, when I get to do things like Cook It Raw, or just meet up with chef friends from around the world, I’m the one who has no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. I hang out with Albert Adria and all he wants to talk about is Barca. He only cares about the Barcelona football club. Nothing else matters.
Chang: I can honestly say I have never once had a conversation about sports with New York City guys outside my kitchen. All we ever talk about is food.
Sauer: Like athletes, chefs have to perform night after night, and are judged on the last night's effort, so are there a lot of similarities between the two?
Chang: It’s so different. At the end of the day, there’s some analogy to team sports because there’s no singular effort. But there’s a huge difference. Athletes get paid, cooks don’t.
Sauer: What about the idea of the celebrity chefs? They’re not really part of the workaday efforts in the kitchen, are they?
Chang: The best comparison is that a chef is like a GM or a coach and the sous chef or whatever would be like the coordinators, but I never think of it like a game. Being in the weeds is something completely unique to cooking. The only thing that it reminds me of is Top Gun, when Maverick can’t fucking get out.
Sauer: Have big-time New York City athletes embraced the foodie culture? Do they know who you are?
Chang: I’ve met a few of the Knicks through a friend who works for team—Amar’e is super cool—but they don’t come in. One guy who I’ve talked to is Garrett Weber-Gale, an Olympic swimmer who cooks because he has to eat all the time and he’s trying to maintain some type of nutrition and make better food. He’s a good dude, but for the most part, no matter how famous a cook gets, we’re not viewed like athletes. At the end of the day, we just make fucking food.
Sauer: Let’s talk about a few of your favorite teams. How would go about fixing the Redskins?
Chang: I don’t know. I guess the first thing is to get a new owner. My only desire to be a billionaire is to buy the Washington Redskins. Snyder is such a young guy, though, that he’ll own the team forever, so I have no desire to be a billionaire.
Sauer: What do you miss the about old days?
Chang: RFK was my favorite. That place felt like a home field. The whole stadium rocked. I’ve never been in a stadium that fucking moved. I loved those guys. My favorite dude was Alvin Walton, just hit like a fucking ton of bricks. But all of ‘em, Darrell Green, Monte Coleman, Riggins. Obviously...
Sauer: And what about the other D.C. squads?
Chang: At least the Bullets have an awesome owner in Ted Leonsis, but we still suck...And the Capitals. Even in the 1980s, the Capitals would always lose to PIttsburgh, alays choke. And the Bullets are one of the worst teams in the NBA right now and we’re single-handedly ruining John Wall’s career. And I can’t root for the Nationals because I’m an Orioles fan...but I hate Peter Angelos because he traded Mike Mussina. That was my guy and he wanted to stay an Oriole. Everyone forgets how good the Orioles were in the mid-1990s and Camden Yards was the place to be. We’d go with our fake I.D.'s, drink beer, eat Boog’s BBQ and then Angelos had to go and fuck it all up.
Sauer: When you go to a game is the food important?
Chang: Food is definitely something I am not thinking about when I go see a game. If you go see the Knicks or Rangers at MSG, there’s no way to eat. Standing up in a fucking corridor eating a Subway sandwich. Miserable.
Sauer: Does it help your restaurants when the local teams succeed?
Chang: No, it’s the opposite. The Super Bowl and the Oscars are always rough, but it’s only one night and you know it’s coming. When the Yankees are in the playoffs, it’s slower and longer. Thank God the Knicks never win.
Sauer: What is your ultimate sports dream?
Chang: A 6’6” Korean wingman with skills, not some genetic Asian freak with a glandular problem. He scores 35 points a game, or puts up Oscar Robertson triple-double numbers. I don’t care if he’s on the Bullets. I will quit my job, move to that town and watch every game.
Sauer: Maybe he’s on the Knicks roster as we speak?