One of the most magnificent books being published this fall is Jeff Scott's limited edition "Notes from a Kitchen" volume 3, part one. Jeff and I both went into the kitchen with chefs. I came back with practical tips. Jeff came back with beautiful photographs and poetry of the people and the place. The rhythm of cooking. The words echoing from the soul. The cryptic scribbles of inspirations. Scott delved into the psyches of stars like Dave Chang, Dominique Crenn and Alex Stupak. And, in some of them, found a connection to the topic of my book, mistakes. Here, Jeff has written a guest post on Dave Chang's room of ideas and his failure philosophy.
“ You have to embrace failure. You have to sort of be attracted to it. It’s a very daunting task and it takes some time. It’s almost sick and twisted and warped to think about it like that, because ultimately you’re hurting yourself, but it’s the only way you learn. ” – David Chang
Ask anyone you greatly admire in life what their strongest memory is of and my guess is it will be about feelings of love and overcoming failure.
Inside David Chang’s expanding culinary experience, inside its core is a special and sacred room, or perhaps it’s a unique mindset that’s perhaps represented by this one exclusive room. The space in question is Momofuku Culinary Lab, in Brooklyn, NY.
I was fortunate to observe and record what goes on in this idea space, and my photographs and recorded conversations take up a good amount of idea space inside Volume Three.
Volume Three: Part One opens up this enigmatic idea room, and takes you into a deeply personal journey inside this private place.
“ There’s perfection in that imperfection. ”– David Chang
This is where flavor is looked at over long periods of time, where copious notes are taken, where ideas are perhaps more like a floating ball in the center of the room, everyone walking around it, circling above and below this ball, this idea, this unknown flavor not yet created or identified. Within this special room, chef David Chang, along with chef Ryan Miller work to answer complex questions and explore the unknown … it is inside this place is where time is suspended, and ideas nurtured.
Mistakes are completely encouraged, as that’s where unknown flavor lives, where mysteries of umami develop and come alive. The future of sensory experience for the diner and for chefs alike will take place here … in this perfect idea space, in this isolated place of the unknown. Ideas will pass from this room then out to chefs in Dave’s restaurants, where ideas and new questions about flavor will then emerge/evolve, and then the process will take unknown flavor reformations, be freshly inspired in ever new directions, and will change and evolve again. A cycle repeats.
One of the days I was in the lab, Dave was working on a dish he was to cook in the coming week, it was a serious showpiece dish and he was working to perfect. Dave was working on making a chickpea puree to serve with some prawns and he wasn’t happy with the results. He was working over a pot and just kept staring into it, almost trancelike, thinking, adjusting the contents of the pot. He was asking himself if he had soaked them ( chickpeas ) long enough, he believed he did, did he cook them long enough, again, yes. Were the chickpea’s too starchy, do they need to be passed through another grade tamis, was there enough salt in the water? The consistency of the puree just wasn’t coming together as he desired and so he patiently worked and reworked his ideas, he spoke with his team … he pulled back time and again and I captured him just thinking. Dave speaks at great length in Volume Three of all these different critical nuances that need to be carefully considered for just this one element of this one dish, as still he wasn’t getting the results he was after during the entire day. It was to require more ideas, more trials, more thought. He was trying to find this perfect ( imperfect ) balance, but it was going to need much more work in the days ahead. So he was left with a pretty critical and glaring idea from the day, that doing simple is really insanely hard.
Notes From A Kitchen Volume Three is about these critical ideas and probing questions; about better understanding failure and the ongoing evolution of a new idea; about nature and how our finest chefs think, feel and react … it’s a brutally honest documentation of creative fluidity.
“ If you’re not embracing failure, you’re never going to get
where you want to go. ”– David Chang
Author, Notes From A Kitchen