Celebrity chef David Chang to open Momofuku Noodle Bar in Vancouver
Last week I wrote about Momofuku Noodle Bar and Kawi, the very first and the most recent of David Chang’s restaurant empire in New York City.
That was before universes collided. Just as I filed the column, in a freakish coincidence, I was contacted with this breaking news: Momofuku Noodle Bar will be opening next year in Vancouver House, that tall drink of drama queen on Howe Street. (“It’s stunning. It’s art,” Chang says.)
David Chang. PNG
I’m super excited. But, even better, so is Chang.
“You’re not as excited as I am,” he said during a phone interview he squeezed into a crushingly busy life.
Chang has been a game changer in modern Asian cooking — a gifted, funny, somewhat manic, smart, opinionated and very cool chef. And a workhorse, with 15 Momofuku-branded restaurants, including the two-Michelin starred Momofuku Ko, another 14 Fuku fried chicken restaurants and concession locations, a partnership in 15 Milk Bar locations, and Netflix shows that keep him airborne around the planet. The newest (after Ugly Delicious) is the docuseries Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner (release date, Oct. 23), which brought him to Vancouver recently, filming a segment with friend Seth Rogen.
“I don’t know of any other city with such a beautiful urban environment, an hour from Whistler and mountains and skiing and you have the ocean right there. I like to fish for chinook,” Chang says.
“It’s amazing year round. A lot of cities don’t have the diversity that’s represented in the food. Vancouver is cool. I love Vancouver. I love Canada in general. There’s nothing not to like about it.”
Vancouver’s not Chang’s first Canadian crush. His Momofuku Restaurant Group operates a couple of restaurants in Toronto, complicit with another mogul, Ian Gillespie of Westbank, the luxury development company. The Canadian venues (Kojin, Momofuku Noodle Bar in Toronto, and the forthcoming Momofuku Noodle Bar in Vancouver) reside in Westbank developments.
“I appreciate that Ian cares and constantly wants to be making things better and is forward looking and is always worried about five, 10 years in the future,” says Chang.
Gillespie’s a fan of Chang and the Momofuku brand, and builds on a relationship started in Toronto in 2012. (He’s a vegetarian so it’s unlikely he’s chowed down on wagyu pepper mazemen noodles or fried chicken and caviar off the Toronto menu.)
Chang knows Vancouver’s a competitive market for Asian restaurants.
“I’m apprehensive. In a good way. We know the culinary culture there. There’s no way we’re just going to walk in,” he says.
“It’ll be one dish at a time and we won’t just make ramen, there’ll be other dishes. But I’ll say it will be uniquely tailored to Vancouver. We don’t broadcast it, but we’re constantly evolving, overhauling. We change up the pork, the noodles. It’s not static. The noodles are a living, breathing organism. We always want to do better. If anything, we’re edging towards cleaner flavours.”
Very true. I found that at his Noodle Bar in East Village — clean flavours and pristine ingredients. As well, for a casual and crazy busy room, the service was harried but welcoming and attentive.
Chang’s noodles are uniquely made with barley. “I don’t know anyone else doing that,” he says.
Vancouver will have the fourth Momofuku Noodle Bar. The noodles and steam buns (touched by angels) are the backbone, but the rest of the menu will be inspired by local ingredients.
At Momofuku’s East Village location, for example, the menu included smoked chicken wings, a beautiful tofu dish (impossible, you say?), beef brisket with garlic chili noodles, soy egg and shishito, and braised oxtail with buttered rice, peppers and egg yolk.
“Vancouver,” Chang says, “is more a part of my life than ever before. My wife is from Seattle, and my in-laws like to take their summer vacation in Vancouver.”
Seth Rogen and David Chang, filming earlier this year in Vancouver for Chang’s Netflix docuseries Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. Courtesy of Netflix / PNG
Rogen, Chang says, is the best ambassador Vancouver could have.
“He could have chosen to go anywhere for my show, but his whole thing is to show how fantastic Vancouver is. He knows food in ways I didn’t expect. There’s diversity and inclusions and openness to different things.”
They visited Lee’s Donuts at Granville Island Public Market, Sun Sui Wah Seafood restaurant, Apna Bhaia (a samosa shop in Rogen’s childhood neighbourhood), Hong Kong BBQ Master in Richmond, and went fishing for chinook and Dungeness crab.
The Noodle Bar in the East Village was Chang’s first venture, and a touchstone.
“I like looking at it as a cross-section of a tree trunk, beginning with how I started, me growing up as a person, going way beyond my comfort zone. It’s the DNA for the entire company — we make delicious food of good value and have fun.”
I ask if Rogen took him to the Richmond Night Market.
“No. Will you take me?” he says. I laugh, thinking it’s in jest. Later, he asks again. “Will you take me to the Richmond Night Market?”
“Sure,” I say. “You’ll have to wear elbow pads. It’s really crowded,” I say.
“I’ll be your bodyguard,” he says.
Uh, no. He’ll need the guarding.