The celebrity restaurateur says plans for the Toronto branch of his Momofuku empire are still in flux, and he likes it that way.
David Chang, the Michelin-starred New York chef whose Momofuku group of restaurants (not to mention his cookbook) has influenced a generation of restaurateurs, is going to be opening up shop in Toronto. That much we know.
A few weeks ago, Chang announced that Toronto’s Momofuku branch—which he has said will be known as Momofuku Daisho—would be opening up on July 28th, but his public relations staff later walked back on that date, saying instead that the restaurant will be opening at some point in August.
Toronto’s gourmands, who currently need to travel to Manhattan in order to sample the fare at Chang’s restaurants and bakeries—or to Syndey, where he opened his first outpost outside New York in 2011—are on tenterhooks as they await more information.
Last week, following a story in The Grid that looked in some detail at the meaning of Chang’s impending Canadian debut, Momofuku’s publicists reached out to local media with offers of phone interviews with the chef himself. The offer came with a warning that Chang would not be able to talk with any specificity about what the Toronto location will be like. With roughly three months until its expected opening date, Daisho—or whatever it ends up being called—is, despite its mounting hype, still almost completely up in the air.
Though to hear Chang tell it, that’s exactly as it should be.
What we know so far.
Momofuku’s Toronto restaurant will be in a new building on University Avenue, adjacent to of the still-under-construction Shangri-La Toronto, a hotel and condominium high-rise at University Avenue and Richmond Street. (Momofuku is coming as part of a deal with Shangri-La’s management.) The restaurant will have three floors. Chang has said that the first floor will feature some kind of casual dining and that the second floor will have a bar. He expects the third floor to be dedicated to some form of communal fine dining, possibly along the lines of the elaborate meat dinners he offers for large groups at his New York restaurants. At Momofuku Ssäm Bar, for instance, a meal of rotisserie duck serves three to six.
Local chef Matt Blondin will be the restaurant’s executive sous, and Chang will be flying some of his people up from New York to handle other administrative roles.
What Chang will say about the menu and atmosphere at the upcoming Toronto location.
Almost nothing, at this point. Work on the restaurant is underway, but plans are still in flux. Chang said he thrives on this kind of pre-opening uncertainty.
“This is the way we’ve done it at all the restaurants,” he explained. “With maybe the exception of Ko [his Michelin-starred, reservation-only restaurant in Manhattan]. That was the only restaurant that sort of worked from the get-go. But then again, it was 12 seats.”
“Everything we do changes, and plans change,” he continued. “And that’s why I’m not going to tell you this is what we’re going to do, because it might very well not be that.”
“If you don’t leave the room for hope,” he said later, “if you don’t leave the room for error, if you don’t leave the room for discovery, how the fuck are you really going to figure it out?”
Chang has said that he looks forward to using Ontario wild game on his menus here. Government regulations forbid him from the serving the stuff at home.
On whether size matters.
The existing Momofuku restaurants have the feel of neighbourhood joints. Chang has said that the Toronto branch will be the biggest single project Momofuku has ever undertaken. Asked if he’d always been hankering for a larger canvas, he demurred.
“Did I always want to do something like this? I mean, I have no idea,” he said. “But it’s a really cool opportunity and that’s why we decided to do it. And it’s an opportunity that will hopefully benefit a lot of people that want to work on the project.” The chance to work in a newly constructed building, he said, was enticing. In previous interviews, he’s hinted that such premium spaces are hard to come by in New York.
He stressed that while the restaurant will be large by Momofuku standards (the precise number of seats has yet to be determined), its layout will be unusual only because of the three-storey setup.
“If it was all [on one floor], nobody would say it’s three restaurants,” he said, alluding to some media reports that have suggested that all three levels of the new branch will be separate entities.
The separation between the floors, he said, will be similar to the separation between a casual-dining area and a fine-dining area at any restaurant that has both.
On what food he likes to eat in Toronto.
“I have an affinity to eat Chinese food, almost all the time. And I think the Chinatown in Toronto is fucking awesome,” Chang said. “I don’t know why the Chinatowns in Canada have to be better than the Chinatowns in America.”
“Some of the roast duck is extraordinarily good,” he said. “Most of it is really good.” He didn’t name specific restaurants.
On The Grid‘s cover story about him.
“Try not to believe any of it. You know, it’s certainly nice and flattering,” he said.
The crux of the story (and, honestly, part of what made it a great read) was its focus on the probable impact Chang’s arrival will have on local chefs, who will suddenly have to contend with celebrity competition. Chang seems to resent the implication that he’s somehow scheming to outshine his fellow chefs.
“Do we want to piss people off? No,” he said. “Do we want to make people happy? Yes. I don’t know how else to talk about it.”
“You know,” he continued, “this is a subject that it seems every Toronto journalist wants to talk about, because it makes good copy, because it’s fucking dramatic. But it’s fucking bullshit for you guys to bring this up. I think it’s total bullshit. It’s a total bullshit question. Do you think that I want to piss Toronto chefs off? Obviously not.”