David Chang, the chef and co-owner of Momofuku Ssam Bar and Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village in Manhattan, says that when it comes to a career in cooking, "the only thing you can't forget is that it's not glamorous and it's back-breaking labor."
It may not be glamorous, but all that hard work has paid off for Chang, who was chosen the 2007 Chef of the Year by both GQ and Gourmet magazines, and was also named the James Beard Foundation's rising chef of the year.
"Looking back on food, on the short time I have done this, it's totally absurd and I'm incredibly lucky," said Chang. Indeed, Momofuku means "lucky peach."
"I think it really is the right place at the right time," Chang said, adding that he feels guilty "because I haven't paid my dues. I haven't done it like everyone else."
"It's one of the few professions where I really think that no matter how bad you are, if you continue to do it and really apply yourself and I'm talking doing 14 hour days every day, you can see your growth and you can chart your growth and how much better you get, because people forget that, you know, it's not rocket science."
The 30-year-old chef was born and raised in Virginia to immigrant parents, and his father worked at and then owned a restaurant, while his mother stayed home to raise him.
"As a child, I didn't see my dad that much because he was always working at the restaurant. He became pretty jaded after working at the restaurant for so long," Chang recalled.
Chang said that his childhood memories also include time spent with "my grandmother and mother, who are amazing cooks, eating Korean food, going out to dinner with my dad, eating lots of noodles and going to Japanese restaurants with my grandfather, who was educated in Japan."
Chang says his father did not want him to follow him into a profession that is "physically hard."
"This was the profession that he did not want me to have," said Chang. "They wanted me to be a banker, a lawyer or any of those things. Unfortunately, I never did that well in school, and [after a] short stint in [the] regular finance desk job world, I knew that this was not cut out for me, so I decided to see how far I wanted to take this cooking thing."
Chang studied at the French Culinary Institute, and sharpened his knives at restaurants like Craft, the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Café Boulud.
Momofuku Noodle Bar serves more than 3,000 pork-belly buns a week, so for Chang, 2007 was literally the year of the pig.
He says his steamed pork bun is "basically just steamed bread." (Click here for the recipe).
"In Asia, particularly in northern China, you see it steamed in all sorts of rolls and forms all over the place, and it's great street food. In Japan you see it … they are like steamed hamburgers essentially. Imagine like a really huge dumpling, and you can get it anywhere, and it's so delicious."
Chang said that in Japan the "awesome" and "delicious" buns are made with Peking duck, but he makes it with pork. "It was one of the few dishes that just sort of happened, and I was like instead of Peking duck, what if we just sort of stuck pork belly into that sort of bun."
Chang says the pork buns were an "11th-hour addition" to the menu.