David Chang created some major waves last week in the world of beer.
Unless you’ve been subsisting on bread and water for the past decade, you know that Chang is the avatar of the current Asian fusion food trend. His Manhattan restaurant empire is headlined by Momofuku Ko, which holds two Michelin stars, and includes the Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Milk Bar, as well as eateries in Toronto and Sydney, Australia. In a world where many people take themselves too seriously, Chang is delightfully relaxed. He may be a celebrity chef, but he’s also a hipster and a bad boy.
Chang wrote a piece for GQ in which he glorified the virtues of cheap, lousy beer, and attacked the snobbery that surrounds much of the current craft beer universe. He compared cheap and lousy beer to Champagne, which is “cool, crisp and refreshing,” and goes well with food because it’s “not a flavor bomb.” Rather than IPAs or barrel-aged Belgian stout, his drink of choice is Bud Light or Tecate. He said that while he could tolerate wine snobs and cheese snobs, “beer snobs are the worst of the bunch.”
His article drew the predictable howls of outrage from craft brewers. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and a friend of Chang’s, seemed to sum up the rebuttal arguments by implying the chef was a pretentious social climber who was attempting be one of the masses. We all drank lousy beer and ate instant ramen when we were poor, went Oliver’s reasoning, but why claim to do it now when your life and tastes have changed?
So what’s really going on here? Can’t a famous chef drink crappy beer if he wants to? The craft brewers may have hurt feelings, but they’ve also missed the point of Chang’s attack. What this chef objects to is the intensity of flavor in craft beer; unlike Champagne, which he perceives to be neutral in taste, all that flavor interferes with a diner’s appreciation of his food. There can only be one source of flavor in his restaurants, and that source must be him. Perhaps David Chang isn’t the revolutionary he appears to be, but rather just another chef who wants to hog the spotlight.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com