Lucky Chang

What's next for the Momofuku empire?

You also have a line of cooking sauces with Williams-Sonoma. Usually, when well-known chefs decide to do a branded food line, it turns into a whole array of stuff. But this is just one bottle of sauce. What’s the thinking?
We were dipping our toes into something with a very respectable company. It allows us to see a part of the food world that we know very little about, and it was really a no-brainer for us. We knew it would be a money-making venture.

How well is it doing?
I have no idea. I know that people buy it.

Do you see it as a pure revenue source or more of a visibility thing?
Certainly it gets the brand out there. But for us it was, OK, how do you produce something in mass? So we got to see how a big company like Williams-Sonoma attacks a problem like this.

Well, you’ve been getting more mass with your restaurant openings. You opened up in Sydney last year, right?
Yep, August.

That 22-hour flight must suck.
I love flying on planes, actually. I don’t like the jet lag. But I actually can relax. I can sleep because I just know there’s nothing I can do. It’s just forced relaxation.

And you’re also going to open up in Toronto. But here’s the thing. Both of those places are really high-end. In Sydney, Momofuku Seiōbo is in Star City, a five-star, $860 million hotel and casino. And in Toronto you’ll be in Shangri-La, a high-rise luxury hotel and condo. Don’t these places run contrary to the simple, egalitarian thing you’re doing here in New York?
Sydney was something where I had an opportunity. The people who backed us let us do what we wanted, so it was really more about executing and control. This was our first project outside of New York and outside of America. The challenge was, could we execute something literally across the planet? Could we transplant our DNA, and have it grow there into something else? Can we do it right?

Do you feel like you have?
I feel that we have, yes.

Sometimes famous chefs build so many restaurants that you wonder if they ever see some of them. How often do you actually head out to Sydney to see how things are going?
I go out there a lot. I’ve probably spent four and a half months there since last August. I spend more time there than anywhere else, really. If we hit all our goals that we have there and we exceed our own expectations there, then it elevates everyone’s game. It’s not just another outpost. It’s not just this cash grab. We’re doing something awesome.

So how’s Toronto going to fit into this?
Toronto is going to be a little bit different. Again, it would be easier to just roll everything out and do the same thing. But we’re going to offer a little bit to everything. The first floor is going to be very casual. The second floor is the bar. The third floor is the restaurant.

That’s so much bigger than anything you’ve done. How are you going to execute on that scale?
Certainly, it’s a different market, and all these things that are very scary and frantic. It’s very important that we fail [now] and get mistakes out of the way. That’s my biggest concern as we get larger and as our brand becomes synonymous with doing things right. If Toronto is going to grow organically and not been seen as just another outpost, then we have to make mistakes. It’s going to be really hard. Maybe I’m an adrenaline junkie or something. But it seems like we have the staff now that can pull it off—not just pull it off, but do it well. We’ve gone from being these amateur bank robbers to being a team of cat burglars. So things have changed.

Obviously they have. Hey, by the way, what do you cook for yourself at home?
I rarely cook at home. Never, actually.

Wow. OK, then, what’s the most important meal of the day for you?
The staff meal at 5 o’clock. Our cooks care about making the food delicious, which is why our staff meals are so delicious. That means a lot to me. It’s the test of a really healthy restaurant—how good the staff meal is. Because if you care about what your peers eat, then you’re going to care a hell of a lot about a paying customer.

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