Dallas Isn't Alone in the Search
For a Culinary Identity

The responses to the recent story I wrote about Dallas dining have been fascinating: Surely it bodes well for eating in this city that so many residents are passionate about the topic.

Many of those readers who took issue with my thesis that the city's dining scene is broken fell into two camps. There were readers who argued, "I ate the greatest dish in my life at so-and-so restaurant in Dallas, so the dining scene must be in good shape," and readers who claimed the lack of a singular culinary identity doesn't bother chefs in New York City, so why should it trouble us?

Whether regionalism should matter in Dallas is a question still to be decided, but David Chang this week revealed he's none too pleased with NYC's Epcot-like assemblage of restaurants specializing in various global cuisines.The founder, chef and owner of the Momofuku restaurants told the Huffington Post he thinks it's "upon chefs to stop trying to make exact authentic replicas of cuisines around the world and try to figure out...what's going on in New York." Since Chang's reflections are so relevant to our ongoing discussion, the entirety of his quote follows.

(Many thanks to Scott at DallasFood.org who linked to this interview in a recent post; I wouldn't have found it otherwise.)

The other week in Spain you said , "We don't have a New York cuisine. I don't want New York to be known as a place that tries to make authentic dishes. We need to have our own cuisine and that's what we're trying to do." How would you describe what you hope New York cuisine can be?

I don't know what New York cuisine is -- I really, really want to find that. I think that the restaurants that opened up in the past decade or so, or just the past couple of years, it's either been Italian or Southern. I mean, we're north of the Mason-Dixon Line, there's no reason we should be copying Southern food, even though it's probably the oldest food culture in America, besides the Native American food culture. You have the sort of California cuisine, you have Southern cuisine.

If you ask me what New York cuisine is: dirty water hot dogs, a slice of pizza, what is it? Is it a little bit of everything? I don't know. But I think it's upon chefs to stop trying to make exact authentic replicas of cuisines around the world and try to figure out what's going on in America, what's going on in New York.

A good example is the guys at Torissi. They're doing Italian-American food, their version of food from Mulberry Street. I think it's a very creative way to be innovative. And while people may be confused, you know, yes they're doing Italian food but it's not Italian food, they're just trying to create something delicious. So I don't know what New York cuisine is, but I think we have an opportunity to define what that is. And I couldn't tell you, but I do know that it's possible.

Look at René Redzepi at Noma. In seven years he created Nordic cuisine. Nobody knew what Nordic cuisine was seven years ago. Now you see what they've done at Noma and it's being copied throughout Scandinavia. And if you asked them seven years ago what is the cuisine of Scandinavia, besides herring, and whatever else, aquavit and all that other stuff, they wouldn't be able to tell you.

Now they have something that they can call their own. It's a distinct way of creating food, a distinct way of plating food and it's unique and it's theirs, it's part of their terroir and I don't feel like we have that. So I can't look in the crystal ball and tell you exactly what it is, but I do feel like we have an opportunity to define that. If it can happen in Copenhagen, I think it can certainly happen in New York.