Lucky Chang

What's next for the Momofuku empire?

You have 11 restaurants open and at least one in the offing. At any point between when you started out and today did you become conscious that you weren’t just expanding but building a brand?
It’s very surreal when people process information and create viewpoints about what something really is. I honestly don’t know. We have a brand. We have a name. It’s called Momofuku.

But your name, you as a public figure, has become synonymous with this operation. So is the brand Momofuku, or you?
I think it’s the peach. But I mean, look at the success of Christina [Christina Tosi, the restaurant’s pastry chef, who created the spin-off dessert concept Momofuku Milk Bar]. I have nothing to do with Milk Bar. And while I’m [involved with the magazine] Lucky Peach, I have little to do with that. I’ve spent more time at the Sydney [Australia] location than I have in New York. So it’s a team thing. Just like any other large organization where, you know, it’s much more than one individual.

Time selected you one as of the Time 100 [the magazine’s annual ranking of the 100 most influential people]. Do you feel especially influential?
It’s so hard to come to terms with any of it—the Time award, the James Beard Award. I got into this profession because I wasn’t supposed to achieve anything. Then all of a sudden, it just veered into this whole new realm. And with Time? It’s just so ridiculous. Certainly an honor though.

Shifting gears a little bit, I’m going to use the “F” word. Have you ever thought about franchising your restaurants?
It has crossed our mind. Certainly there have been deals out there. There is a very successful fast-food company that approached us and quite frankly took our intellectual property. And they are running our concept right now. They have two stores that have opened up. [But about franchising], I don’t know. I’m never going to say never. But it’s hard for me to grasp the notion of having a thousand outlets.

It’s hard for lots of restaurateurs who do it because it really does mean losing control. It freaks some of them out.
If I could be a voice of reason for any chef who gets approached: More often than not, when somebody starts to talk to you, they just want to suck your blood.

Well, on a more pleasant note, you’ve also got a magazine, Lucky Peach, which is really popular. But why did you decide to gamble with a print product?
We were going to do an app for Apple, and we were going to do a TV show that was going to be on the app. Unfortunately, the producers of that app totally fucked us. I hate them so much I can’t even remember their name. We had great content, but it just didn’t meet Apple’s expectations. So we had an idea—why not do a magazine? It was funny. We wanted to do new media because it was something that was fun, something that was different. We had been fortunate enough to have a lot of opportunities to do TV, but we’ve turned almost all of them down.

But TV’s a huge opportunity for a chef. Why did you turn it down?
I don’t know quite yet if I’m in the right mental state to handle being known.

You mean, you can still walk down the street now and not get stopped?
Well, that’s the problem—I do.

Not as much as you’d get stopped if you were on TV though.
Yeah, yeah. I have done some stuff on TV. But I’m able to make the distinction between what a chef actually is and what the world perceives. And for me, it’s going to be a lot harder to discern that distinction if I do TV. So it may happen, but at this point it’s not something I’m comfortable with.

In The Atlantic’s review of your magazine, it seemed like the writer didn’t want to like it but sort of had to because the content was a lot better than what one usually gets from a food magazine. Was that something you were aiming to do?
No, I had so little to do with that.

Who gets the credit then?
Peter Meehan on the creative content, Chris Ying on the editorial end. But Peter did so much work on it. That was really his baby, his fuck you to everyone who said, “You can’t do this.” But I’m just there, and I get way too much credit for something I can’t deserve.

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