What David Chang’s arrival means for Toronto

David Chang is undeniably one of the biggest names in food right now. The New York based chef and captain of the burgeoning Momofuku empire recently announced that he would be opening the doors to not one, but two adjoined locations here in Toronto. While Toronto is home to its fair share of restaurants manned by celebrity chefs – Scott Conant,  Lynn Crawford, and Susur Lee are all currently running restaurants here – Chang is arguably the biggest name to date to establish a presence. So, what does this all mean for Toronto?

Could David Chang’s stamp of approval finally mark Toronto’s arrival on the scene as an international food destination? That’s a pretty lofty goal, but this is a good a place as any to start.

David Chang is a two Michelin Star rated chef who has made a serious mark on the North American dining scene over the past few years. In 2010 Time Magazine named him amongst the top 100 most influential people in the world. Owning & operating Manhattan locales like Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Milk Bar and Momofuku Ko (the latter of which earned him his two star rating), Chang is most famous for his flawless execution of modern riffs on Asian classics. His steamed pork buns have an almost cult like following, and his soft-cooked hen’s egg with caviar has garnered much critical acclaim for Momofuku Ko. Momofuku Ko, by the way, seats only 12 people and is currently one of the toughest reservations to lock down in all of New York City. Outside of the kitchen, most wouldn’t hesitate to call Chang an outspoken individual. He is not afraid to stick to his guns, and he certainly makes no apologies for his somewhat brash (albeit endearing) demeanour. He refuses any and all substitution requests at his restaurants, and he isn’t the biggest fan of vegetarianism. In other words, Chang possesses the right balance of culinary credibility and polarizing  personality that has proven to be a very successful formula in celebrity chefdom.

And now he has a Toronto address. Or, at least he will when both of his new outposts open their doors in partnership with the super swank Shangri-La Hotel in July.

The only problem is that Chang’s arrival in the city comes at a time when some food industry purists are concerned that the chef may be spreading himself a bit thin. Currently running a whole whack of restaurantspublishing a quarterly magazine, offering a line of rather expensive sauces, and even making cameos in HBO’s Treme, some fear that the man behind Momofuku may be crossing the threshold between respected chef and brand whore. Coupled with the overtly corporate nature of the Shangri-La Hotel collaboration, there will undoubtedly be those who view Chang’s foray into the city as a simple cash grab operation. Granted, Chang is miles away from earning a Guy Fieri-esque reputation of being more caricature than chef, but the rumblings are there either way.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that you really shouldn’t care about any of the above. So long as the food served by Chang in Toronto is on par with its Manhattan equivalent there really isn’t anything to complain about. After all, Chang is a chef who has earned his current reputation the hard way through time banked in the kitchen, not through his PR savviness. There will always be diners out there who take issue a with restaurant basing its reputation off of a chef who isn’t actually present in the kitchen, but attitudes like that are swimming against the current of the restaurant business as it operates today. You can’t hate on a man for making something of his reputation and then capitalizing on it – that’s what we all aspire to do in the long run. Instead, you should be enjoying the world class food that is bringing a touch of notoriety to your local dining scene. Luckily for us, Chang seems to be pretty self aware when it comes critiques like these.

Since announcing the Toronto restaurants, Chang has expressed that he is a big fan of the city and its diverse offerings, claiming that he is aiming to create a unique and distinctly Torontonian experience. While detail remain sketchy at best, Chang has made it clear that he’s not aiming to simply install a carbon copy of his Manhattan success story here on the streets of Toronto. This approach should certainly help to inspire confidence among Toronto’s food nerds.Considering the fact that Chang is also currently expanding into Melbourne, a city well known for its reputation it comes to world class cuisine, this very well could mean big things for Toronto.

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