Restaurateur, author and media personality David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group and culinary brand, will appear at the Connecticut Forum on May 12. (Courtesy of CT Forum)
In 2014, David Chang declared his definitive opinion on pizza, taking to Twitter to issue a statement assured to stir some controversy among gourmands.
“I think that America’s best pizza resides in New Haven, CT,” he tweeted on March 19 of that year. “Deal with it.”
The 40-year-old restaurateur, author and media personality, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group and culinary brand and a 1999 graduate of Trinity College, says his views haven’t changed.
“Collectively as a town, New Haven has some of the best pizza,” Chang said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve always thought that. Even when we were freshmen. Anytime we’d go past New Haven…and sometimes we’d drive there, get it and come back. It was something I’d eat on the regular.”
And his favorites? “I think Bar is good…Sally’s is great, too, but my favorite pie is the Pepe’s clam pizza. With bacon. You’ve got to get it with bacon.”
Chang returns to Hartford May 12 as part of The Connecticut Forum’s “Chefs & The Art of Food” event at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. He’ll appear as a panelist alongside Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune in New York City and author of two New York Times bestsellers, and celebrity chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio, head judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Sam Sifton, food editor at the New York Times, will moderate.
“This live, unscripted panel conversation will cover the art, science, business, and politics of food, including discussion about the latest food trends, local sourcing and clean food, environmental sustainability, and approaches to food and cuisine,” the Connecticut Forum wrote in a press release.
New Haven pizza earned a prominent spot on the first episode of Chang’s 2018 Netflix documentary series, “Ugly Delicious,” described as a “mouthwatering, cross-cultural hunt for the world’s most satisfying grub.” Each of the eight episodes highlights one particular food or topic, including pizza, tacos, barbecue and fried chicken. The premiere episode found Chang wearing a Hartford Whalers T-shirt as he visited Brooklyn pizzeria Lucali and interviewed its chef and owner, Mark Iacono.
“I think New Haven pizza, as a community, has the best pizza in America,” Chang told Iacono, who said he had never experienced Connecticut pies. “It’s a surprising statement, I understand, but you’ve got to check it out.” Later in the episode, Iacono traveled to Wooster Street to meet Pepe’s co-owner Gary Bimonte, grandson of the founder.
Just five years after his graduation from Trinity, Chang introduced what would become the first restaurant in the Momofuku empire. Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in New York in 2004, featuring ramen and its now-signature steamed pork buns.
In the years following, Chang and his team launched brands like Ssäm Bar, Ko, Má Pêche, Nishi, and bakery Momofuku Milk Bar, garnering mention on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants annual lists and James Beard Foundation awards for both Chang and pastry chef Christina Tosi. Chang went on to open spots in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Sydney and Toronto, and most recently debuted Majordomo, his first Los Angeles restaurant, in January.
While Chang’s restaurant brand keeps growing, he continues to dabble in media endeavors. His Lucky Peach magazine venture, a unique quarterly food journal, won multiple James Beard media awards, including Publication of the Year in 2016. (Its sudden closing in 2017 was met with shock and sadness on social media.)
In February, he joined NBC Sports as a special correspondent for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A month later, he announced a new project, Majordomo Media, which features a podcast, “The Dave Chang Show,” a limited series on the Ringer Podcast Network.
“It’s a lot. It’s been a busy year,” says Chang, who’s also in the process of relocating to Los Angeles. “I think we have a really tremendous team; that’s how it happens. You’re only as good as your team, so that’s how it all gets done.”
Chang, a newlywed, says he’s trying to “find some balance of personal life” amid his busy schedule. “I think the difficulty isn’t managing media and restaurants; I think the difficulty is me being a husband, being a great friend, all these things I’ve been putting off for so many years. That’s the hard part.”
When he returns to Hartford this month, he has another Connecticut pizzeria on his must-have list — a nostalgic memory from his Trinity days. “Honestly, I just want to get to Campus Pizza,” he said.
The Connecticut Forum presents “Chefs & The Art of Food” May 12 at 8 p.m. at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. Tickets are $25 to $110, available on ctforum.org and by phone at 860-509-0909.
Prior to the event, the CT Forum will present a food truck festival outside The Bushnell starting at 4 p.m., featuring several local trucks, live music and entertainment. Admission is free, with food and drink for sale.