Yesterday, one of our long time Restaurant Awards Judges, Mia Stainsby, broke the news that Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame would be opening a Momofuku Noodle Bar next year in the new Vancouver House development. At first blush, it's awesome news. Chang has been sort of the anti-celebrity chef since his Momofuku Noodle Bar burst on to the New York food scene 15 years ago, and since then he's opened scores of restaurants (30 and counting if you include Milk Bar and Fuku locations) in locales as diverse as Sydney, Las Vegas, Boston and Toronto. His TV shows—The Mind of the Chef and Ugly Delicious—are thoughtful and interesting in a way that Guy Fieri's shows are not. And even his short lived magazine, Lucky Peach, was widely admired in the publishing industry for it's long takes on topical ideas in the food industry. So this is great news, right?
Well, let's hope so. I couldn't help but notice that Chang got his early start working at Cafe Boulud, under Daniel Boulud. If that name sounds familiar, it's because the last time the city got excited about a NY celebrity chef coming to town it was 2008 and it was Boulud who was effectively taking over Lumiere from the beloved Rob Feenie and opening a DB Bistro Moderne next door. Fast forward a little over 2 years later and Boulud—having made little impact on our dining scene—departed with little fanfare marking the end of a spotty run.
Boulud's departure underscored a few truisms about Vancouver diners. One, as Boulud found out the hard way, we don't care about celebrity chefs. Don't believe me? Call up Jean-Georges at the Shangri La and see if you can score a 7:30 reservation for 4 this Friday. Bonus points if you had forgotten we even had a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant in town. Two, we don't like being late to the game: Toronto got its first Chang restaurant 7 years ago (also in a Westbank project, it should be noted), a long enough period of time that two of the original TO spots—Daisho and Shoto—have since closed and been replaced by a new concept, Kojin. Three, Chang's pioneering cuisine isn't what it was a decade ago. Thanks to him, Bao buns are ubiquitous, cereal milk is everywhere and you can buy ssam sauce on Amazon. To wow us, there's going to be a solid team who can adapt the concept to our local sensibilities.
But notwithstanding all of the above, I hope it takes. I was at the Momofuku in Las Vegas a few months back and even at that most commercial of his outlets the food was really solid. I also am a huge fan of Bjarke Ingels design of Vancouver House and hope it helps inject some vibrancy into the south section of downtown. And Chang seems like a cool guy, hanging out with Seth Rogen at Lee's Donuts and generally keeping up an outsiders take on all things food even though he's anything but. The opening date is tentatively slated for fall of next year - we'll report more as it dribbles in.