SCIENCE FOCUS

Internet makes food taste the same, says celebrity chef David Chang

Celebrity chef David Chang says availability of so much information has created a gastronomical monoculture that is stifling the creative process

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2015, 8:44am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 10:57am

There's many things the internet can be blamed for, from revenge porn to Grumpy Cat, but celebrity chef David Chang has added a new item to the list.

"Everything tastes the same and it's the internet's fault," he said.

The Korean-American Chang, chef and owner of the noodle bar empire Momofuku, argues that the much-vaunted democratisation of information has had a pernicious affect on variation in food.

Take the example of ramen, the foodstuff which his own restaurants specialise in. Before the internet, he said "apprentices would learn from a chef, then work their way from taking orders to washing dishes and finally to working in the kitchen. Once they were good enough, the master would tell them to move on to another shop somewhere else".

If you wanted to learn how to cook, "you'd order ramen books from Japan and wait weeks for them to arrive, so you could pore over the photos from across the planet".

Now, he wrote, "ramen is everywhere, and a lot of it is the same. I don't want to go to every city and taste the same f****** thing. Everyone's serving tonkotsu ramen, everyone's serving pork. You could do a blind taste test and not have any idea where the f*** you're eating."

Speaking at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Chang argued that restaurant cuisine is hurt in more ways than one by the frictionless way the internet enables chefs to get information all around the world.

"There are probably 10 websites about the best places to find ramen throughout the world. That's fantastic, but it hurts the important demographic of the cooks. There's not struggle, and I think it's very important in any creative process that you endorse some sort of struggle."

At the other end of the scale, he argued, the rapid growth in food blogs and online conversation around eating out means that it's harder than ever for a young chef to make a mark doing something that's interestingly different, because the pressure to get it right first time is enormous.

"One thing the internet prevents is trial and error. Everybody wants something instantly. That's fantastic, but what it sacrifices is the process of f****** up. I'm sorry, but nobody is born a chef genius, it's whoever makes the best mistakes. And right now the internet puts people in the position where they have to get it right immediately."

Despite being down on the internet, Chang is by no means relentlessly anti-tech - although he expects more than the industry currently provides the restaurant sector. "The existing stuff that's there, it's great but it's not awesome. I don't think anyone's like 'man, I love OpenTable'. You use it by default. We use it. But it's not something you rave about.

"That's what we're missing: nothing's amazing."

The dream platform, he said, would mix the reservation, point of sale and inventory systems to offer something unique. "For instance: We have some really old great wines. If someone orders a really great burgundy, I need to open that six hours before hand.

"Currently, of course, that's not possible: the restaurant can only open wine once a customer's ordered it. There should be a way for us and the customer to be like 'Mr Smith, last time you were here you ordered this, would it be all right if we opened it at five o'clock beforehand?'"

The Guardian