is behind the acclaimed Momofuku group in New York. In his Guest DJ set, he reveals that he almost picked up a guitar instead of following his culinary dreams. The outspoken chef also shares his steadfast belief that a restaurant’s attitude is defined by its music. Chang will open his first restaurant outside the U.S. in Sydney later this year.
For More: http://www.momofuku.com
Mario Cotto: Hi, this is Mario Cotto from KCRW and I am here with outspoken member of the food community and the mastermind chef behind Momofuku, David Chang. Today we're going to be playing excerpts of songs he's selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. This first track you picked, by the Allman Brothers Band, is "Dreams." Tell me a little bit about this.
David Chang: "Dreams" and the Allman Brothers Band was sort of like a gateway band for me. The first two albums were amazing, and "Dreams" is slide guitar at its best. I really sort of geeked out on the Allman Brothers Band so much that I learned about Duane Allman -- you know, he worked his way around with Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, Eric Clapton -- and sort of introduced me to so many different bands, I guess, in the classic rock phase. It was a song that I played a lot because it was just an insane guitar solo throughout.
DC: My parents would never let me play guitar and I wanted to play slide guitar so much like Duane Allman, but I just never had the balls to go and do it. My mom just thought it was the worst thing in the world if I would play guitar, so…I don't know where my life would be if I actually became a guitar player of some sort.
MC: What does she think about your being a chef? Is it sort of like you moved that passion into the chef business?
DC: I don't think anybody in my family thought that I was going to enter the culinary world. I think they would’ve been more excited if I told them I was going to be in a band than telling them, 'I'm going to start cooking now. And I want to do it professionally and work ridiculous hours and slave away in the basement of a kitchen.’
MC: That was "Dreams" by the Allman Brothers Band. I'm Mario Cotto and I'm here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project with mastermind chef, David Chang.
Now we’re going to get into something a little heavier -- "I See A Darkness" by Will Oldham.
DC: It's probably the most important song in my life. For those of you who don't know, Will Oldham, he goes by many monikers -- Bonnie Prince Billy, Palace Brothers Music -- but being a huge fan of his early work, when "I See A Darkness" came out, the whole album is insane. That's actually one album I've never put on in any of the restaurants just because it brings everything to a different tone. And "I See A Darkness" is, for me, headphone music.
MC: You create the atmosphere in your restaurants using music?
DC: Yes, absolutely. Music is really important to us and we play some things that may be inappropriate, but not all restaurants should be accessible to everybody. Just like movies aren't for everybody. Particularly in New York where there's something like 70,000 restaurants. There's plenty to choose from, so why don't we sort of cultivate a culture in our restaurants that's specific to us, and I think there's no better medium to sort of achieve that than through music. It really, I think, tells you a lot about what kind of food that you might get served, but also the creativity and the ideas behind the people running the restaurant.
DC: Running a restaurant and the craziness of New York can lead to some pretty down times and for me, "I See A Darkness" was really a song of hope and is a song of hope and it's an incredibly powerful song and the lyrics are very strong and evoke a lot of powerful images. I think most people are familiar with the Johnny Cash version, but Johnny Cash is really singing about, I think, fighting alcoholism. But Will Oldham's version I think is about fighting personal demons, really. You know, when I play this song, it's a song of hope and that's what you need sometimes to get you through the day.
MC: "I See A Darkness" by Will Oldham. We got a little bit of a change-up here, what's this next track?
DC: This is probably one of my favorite bands of all time, Luna. And again, it was sort of a gateway band for me as well because I listened to them and then I started to listen to Television and Velvet Underground and everything that sort of came before them. For me, Luna was the band that I followed and, when they broke up, it was like the first time I was hurt by it. It was like I lost a member of my family.
I chose the song, "Chinatown" because it just encompasses living in New York. When you listen to it, and you live in New York long enough, you're like 'Wow'. This song, this whole album really, is about being young and having fun and the trials and tribulations of living in New York.
MC: We just heard "Chinatown" by Luna, off of the Penthouse album. My name is Mario Cotto and here on the Guest DJ Project on KCRW with mastermind chef, David Chang. Now, you were talking just a moment ago, about the way in which the Allman Brothers were a gateway to lots of different kinds of music. Introduce this track…
DC: The Wu Tang Clan “Method Man”. I remember going to my friend Peter’s car during like a lunch break or something. And I had never heard of them before or anything and I’m listening to this guy talk about the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard. Like so perverse that thought I was listening to something secret and evil and wrong and it just felt so right.
It was the first time in my life where I listened to music where I was questioning” ‘is this good or bad?’ Somebody made music like this? This is totally obscene. How is this possible? And I felt like I was doing something illegal by listening to this. And it really sort of opened the door and made me so aware of different types of music. It wasn’t so cookie-cutter clean.
MC: We just heard the “Method Man” by Wu-Tang Clan off “Enter the Wu-Tang Clan”.
This is another classic and one of my personal favorites. Tell us about your last choice, Pavement.
GC: Pavement to me is timeless. And the idea that all five band members were never in the same state, yet they were in a band and they never practiced and they made it work.
“Shady Lane” is one of my favorite songs, but it was the first time I ever listened to a lyric where I was like it makes no sense, but it makes complete sense. It’s playing on words and it’s just a fun song, so, Shady Lane is something that I love, I still listen to, and my life wouldn’t be the same without Pavement.
MC: “Shady Lane” by Pavement here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Alright, David thank you so, so much for joining us here on KCRW.com today.
DC: Mario, thanks for having me. This is really cool, you don’t start cooking to think that you’d ever do something like this. A real pleasure.
MC: A real pleasure, indeed. For a complete song listing and to find these songs online, please go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject