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May 21, 2007 07:18 PM

Momofuku ssam-influences? [moved from Manhattan board]

Gotta love David Chang-well deserved James Beard award. But I couldn't help thinking of those he may have drawn influence from. The uni with tapioca and whipped tofu reminded me of the oysters and pearls at per se although I think Sushi of Gari came up with the whipped tofu on sushi idea first. The incredible hams reminded me of the ham tasting at Bar Americain-Bobby Flay. The banh mi was first rate though still second to the one I had the day before from Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Mott Street. The chawan mushi with caviar was good but not up to Ushi wakamaru's authentic version and I still have to go back to try Soto's version. All in all a great menu but is anything original anymore?

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  1. No, nothing is original. Also, everything is original.

    I don't know that you can identify your associations as Chang's influences—country ham from Flay? banh mi from Chinatown?—but I always welcome insight like that when it comes from the chef. Innovation through imitation is an absolutely central tenet of the culinary arts, and one of the best parts about dining in restaurants is trying to classify a newly tasted dish against the continuum of your gastronomical ledger. There's a universe of originality there that will never be exhausted.

    An argument could be made for rewarding chefs for truly avant-garde work, and an argument could be made for or against the Beard awards being that reward. But I don't weep for the state of American cuisine if David Chang is considered a top young chef. Is he printing your appetizers on edible paper, or atomizing your entree? No, but he's also not making steak au poivre and sides of french fries.

    1. I think Mazzer brought up some good points.

      I don't think "original" in this case implies "inventing" a new dish per se. It is more about how a chef interprets different ingredients and put them into a dish in his own way, as well as his/her execution of the ideas. The oysters and caviars in Keller's oysters and pearls are ingredients that we have enjoyed in many raw bars, but what's unique about his dish is how he combines these ingredients together with his own interpretation, techniques, and flavoring into a new dish. Sushi of Gari's so called "innovative" styled sushi are also putting existing ingredients that seemingly don't belong together into a different style of food. While not all dishes at Momofuku are "original", but his executiions, his presentations, and of course some new combinations that exhibited originality all contributed to his success in getting the James Beard Award.

      I completely understand your preference to the authentic version of some dishes. I like sushi and sashimi straight up without any dress-up (or I like Yasuda more than Gari) as well. People will have the freedom to choose if they like the authentic styles or the new versions, and so I am happy that new ideas also give us more selections.

      1. I absolutely agree with both of you.In fact, like travel, I love to make associations with past experiences, my "gastronomic ledger" as you call it. But I'd also like to know what specifically inspires a chef. Interesting discussion recently on the blogs about the "egg thief" -the Top Chef who "borrowed" but claimed as original a Wylie Dufresne faux egg dish (which also reminded me of a similar dish at Michel Richard's Citronelle that I had recently had (Richard just won Best Old Chef at Beard awards)-there I go again with my free associations). All in all, the state of the gastronomic union is strong.:)

        1 Reply
        1. re: guttergourmet

          Hi guttergourmet,

          I was also intrigued by that egg thief news, and I think that's really what I called not original. Rather than presenting the egg in a new way (or new combination of ingredients or techniques, Marcel only recreated a dish. In fact, during the top chef competitions, Ilan also presented almost all the dishes that are offered in Casa Mono with only slight twists. Below is a funny exchange btw Batali and Bourdain in which Mario specifically mentioned Ilan stealing all the Casa Mono dishes:

          Well, in the world full of blogs, any chef is original or NOT original will soon be identified by readers. To me, losing credibility is worse than being not innovative. I can still enjoy a meal when a chef executes a classic dish well, but I don't think I will enjoy a dish if I know the chef steals someone's idea.

        2. As far as the idea for opening a restaurant serving burritos (Ssam) is concerned, he did name drop Chipolte in an Eater interview.