David Chang Talks Burgers (and Beer)
The famous chef on why he thrills in amateur recipes, at Budweiser Made in America festival
This past weekend, Budweiser Made in America festival attendees swarmed Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway as they enjoyed the Jay Z-curated line-up, with Rihanna headlining. (There were also some nonchalant sightings of Bill Clinton, Malia Obama and of course, Bey). In between the five different stages, however, a competition was heating up at the heart of the park—and Momofuku founder and chef, David Chang, was there to determine the winner.
For this year's Bud and Burgers competition, two finalists from opposite coasts of the country were serving up slider sizes of their not-so-typical recipes to concertgoers. LA's Cook & Capture served up the "Onion Dip Double" (featuring French's crispy fried onions and Lipton onion soup and dip mix), while Florida-based The Destin Kahunas managed to squeeze candied bacon, smoked Gruyère, pineapple, jalapeños and more between two buns for the "Kahuna Cowboy." Beside being made by amateur cooks, these burger recipes practically beg you to wash all those explosive flavors down with lots and lots of unfancy Budweiser.
Chang, who also judged last year's edition, relishes in the wild ideas amateur chefs bring forth. He recalls a burger from last year where the cook dipped bread into a green chile nacho cheese; then dipped the burger into the cheese, too. "That's a perfect example of something that I would never, ever, ever do. But I was like, oh—it's almost like a French dip but instead of using beef broth, she used cheese. But it was really smart!" he says, on-site at Made in America. "You can learn something from amateur cooks," he adds, because "who the hell would do that?" He compares it to the street food scene in Taipei—where it's evolved into a "weird thing" where vendors are making food in unheard of ways. "You get stuck with people that only say that you can do it a certain way—particularly in food. So it's really refreshing to see people who say, 'I don't care. I'm going to do it my way.'"
Chang also shouted out NYC's less-than-a-year-old Superiority Burger, serving vegetarian recipes by Brooks Headley. "That's a perfect example. He's, I think, if not America's greatest pastry chef, one of. You're having this sort of renaissance in burgers because talent that has traditionally not been in that kind of food, is now there."
But what kind of burgers does Chang prefer? He attributes his penchant for "very simple" burgers to his East Coast upbringing: beef from LaFrieda ("they just have the best beef around"), American cheese, bread & butter pickles, bread. "I don't like having a bunch of stuff on my burger; I don't do lettuce, onions, tomatoes. I mean, I do, but not for everything. And for burgers, there's a time and place for just about everything." Like when eating out: at Chang's Momofuku Daisho in Toronto, there's a burger with kimchi crust, king oyster mushrooms and kohlrabi slaw; and at his latest NYC endeavor Momofuku Nishi, there's the vegetarian Impossible Burger. But there's nothing that tastes quite like grilling it yourself, outdoors.
The winner? The Destin Kahunas—which means their creation, The "Kahuna Cowboy," will soon be on the menu at Budweiser’s Las Vegas restaurant (yes, Budweiser has its own rooftop bar and grill, and it's called Beer Park).
Images courtesy of Getty