“It was probably the singular worst experience of my life, because Noodle Bar will kick your ass.” Sure, Su Wong Ruiz‘s first go at working for David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant empire wasn’t the greatest success. (“My ass was completely flattened by that experience,” she says.) But over time, she became part of the acclaimed, three-hat-earning launch team for his Momofuku Seiobo restaurant in Sydney (Chang claimed this was his first venue “where the front of house is equal to, if not better than, the kitchen team”). Then Su went on to work for Momofuku’s Má Pêche (where she met future Seiobo chef, Paul Carmichael) and Momofuku Ko, which has been called Chang’s most ambitious restaurant.
“Dave is a very particular type of coach and tormenter – he’s really good at it,” jokes Su. So it was fascinating to hear her talk about the unexpected challenges and standards set by the influential chef, as well as her strong working relationships with Ben Greeno (Seiobo’s first head chef) and Sean Gray, who rules the kitchen at Momofuku Ko. I also enjoyed hearing how ultra-creative Sean’s dishes are – like the cold fried chicken, for instance, and how things went down at their recent collaboration at Melbourne’s Marion bar. Then there’s the fascinating bar that they set up next to Ko (which Pete Wells called “The David Chang Restaurant Almost Nobody’s Heard Of”).
Plus: Su’s insights on delivering good restaurant service – and dealing with trolls – are really fascinating. It’s especially interesting because her career started on the other side of the pass: when she “conned” her way into a job as a cook while visiting New Mexico. She also shares her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney and New York.
You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or download it via RSS or directly. You can also find it on Stitcher and Google Podcasts nowadays. And a big salute to everyone who has left a kind review in Apple Podcasts or even told me in person that they dig the podcast. You rule.
Photography courtesy of Zack DeZon.