David Chang | Korean-American

David Chang Korean American
Photo credit: Rene Johnston/The Toronto Star

David Chang


Chef + Restaurateur

Instagram: @davidchang

Known as “The King of the Pork Bun,” David Chang is the youngest of four children and the son of Korean immigrants – his father from the North and mother from the South.

David was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Vienna, Virginia. His father opened a few delis and eventually decided to give it up in order to open a golf-supplies business. This new direction led David to take up the sport, and one which he advanced to become Virginia's State Champion twice. But by 13, David hung up the towel and moved on to football in high school.

Freshman year at Trinity College in Connecticut became the trial run of his early adulthood. His degree stemmed from his desire to understand Christianity and Eastern religions. “I was the kid who went to Sunday school, saw on the wall something about burning in hell, and thought, Isn’t that a little mean?”

Partying, drinking, and smoking weed were a part of a routine that led to a 1.9 GPA and almost derailed his college career. But he quickly turned things around and graduated with a degree in Religious Studies in 7 semesters vs. the normal 8.

After college, David moved to Japan to teach English for 2 months, then moved back to the States – this time NYC. He bussed tables and took on a short stint at a financial institution before deciding to try a new route at the age of 22. He enrolled at the French Culinary Institute and finally found something he liked to do.

He went on to work in some of Manhattan's best restaurants, then moved back to Japan to feed his love interest for a style of noodles called “soba.” While in Japan, he worked 3 weeks in a ramen shop “...located in a homeless center run by a wealthy Korean.” Followed by a soba shop, where he was eventually fired for breaking a highly valued artisan bowl, then a stint at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo.

In 2003, David returned to the U.S. and worked for chef/restaurateur Andrew Carmellini at Café Boulud for less than a year before finding out that his mom had cancer. The next stretch of time would be filled with nurturing her back to health in Vienna and contemplating whether or not he wanted to return to an established NY restaurant. In 2004, and with the help of a $200k loan from his father, David moved back to NY and made his dream a reality when he opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar in East Village.

With dedication and hard work, David's one-off Momofuku (meaning “Lucky Peach”) has spiraled into a restaurant group, which includes:

  1. Momofuku Ssäm Bar (NYC)
  2. Má Pêche (NYC)
  3. Milk Bar (NYC)
  4. Momofuku Ko (NYC)
  5. Momofuku Seiōbo (Sydney, Australia)
  6. Momofuku Toronto (made up of 3 restaurants: Noodle Bar, Daishō and Shōtō)
  7. Momofuku CCDC (Washington, D.C.)

To date, David's awards and accolades include: GQ Chef of the Year (2007), Food & Wine Best New Chef (2006), Time 100 Most Influential People (2010); 2 Michelin Stars each year since 2009; S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants (#37 in 2012); and 4 James Beard Awards, including for Outstanding Chef (2013).

Interesting fact: Beginning at 9-years-old, David pushed himself to drink a gallon of milk every day in hopes of getting bigger than his 2 older brothers.

Sources: GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Washington Post