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David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness (wired.com)
217 points by tptacek on July 22, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments

David Chang himself throws me for a Strange Loop. On the one hand he is a genius and I'm so intrigued by his take on food, but then he'll talk about how he loves gas station hotdogs or orange chicken from Panda Express. I love that he can be pretentious in his unpretentiousness.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the PBS series The Mind of a Chef. The first season is all about David Chang, narated by Anthony Bourdain. It's on Netflix and at least the Ramen episode is on Daily Motion.

I've always held that if you don't enjoy something across a wide range of the spectrum on which it exists, you can't really call yourself an enthusiast.

If you say you're a sushi connoisseur, but you only like top-shelf sushi prepared by world renowned chefs, then you don't really like sushi. You just like nice things. If you say you're a wine aficionado, but you will only drink wine that you've read is good, you don't really like wine.

Does a steak enthusiast need to enjoy a thin cut of pure gristle, cooked until it’s blackened on both sides? Or a haut cuisine “deconstructed steak” which can be eaten in one bite?

Does a coffee aficionado need to enjoy a cup from the local 24-hour diner which was made by over-extracting cheap stale beans and then leaving the pot to sit on a hot pad for hours? Or a cup of instant coffee mixed with non-dairy creamer and two tablespoons of sugar?

Would a code connoisseur need to have an aesthetic appreciation for a corporate 500 kloc Java project that does nothing useful?

* * *

Someone who is deeply satisfied to eat anything called “sushi” is just a very hungry person, and someone who has an insatiable thirst for every type of wine is an alcoholic.

Or in other words, there’s a big gray area here. There is a very wide range of quality in most things, from «entirely unpalatable and probably poisonous» to «divine once-in-a-lifetime experience», as well as a wide range in particular tastes and preferences. Different people have different standards, and that’s okay.

One group of people can like student art films with no action and long philosophical monologue voiceovers by entirely unlikeable characters. Another group of people can like superhero movies with a predictable plot, flat characterization, and lots of explosions. Both groups can plausibly say they like “movies”.

Your reaction to the parent says more about you than the point the parent was trying to make.

>[If] you only like top-shelf sushi prepared by world renowned chefs....

>[If] you will only drink wine that you've read is good...

Both of those are examples of a second-handed appreciation for the subject matter. In the first case, the person is substituting pricing signals and reviewer opinions for their own independent judgement. In the second case, the person is not only substituting reviewer opinions for their own judgement, but also denying themselves even the opportunity to learn how to judge the subject.

An enthusiast or connoisseur is a person with a first-handed view of a subject. In order to develop a first-handed view, a broad understanding of the material, associated topics, and direct experience with the full breadth of a subject is necessary.

In the case of sushi, the enthusiast needs to understand the varying quality of sushi available, methods and techniques of preparation, the flavor profiles of fish, the effect of garnishes and sauces, and so forth. You can't appreciate great sushi until you understand bad/mediocre/good sushi.

In the case of wine, the enthusiast should have extensive experience with wines at many price points, understand the production methods, understand types of fermentation, know the various types of grapes, and so forth.

In my experience, enthusiasts for a specific topic are almost never snobs. I've met beer enthusiasts who don't necessarily enjoy common beers, but they are nevertheless in awe of the production process and uniform quality. I've met wine connoisseurs who dislike many $30 bottles but generally enjoy $2 wine from Trader Joes (aka two-buck-chuck).

It's amusing that you had to even respond - both commenters simply painted two extreme strawmen, both worthless: * A snobby connoisseur who refuses to consume nothing but the very best in every category (The implication not that their palette is ACTUALLY so well-refined, but rather that they refuse to give anything "lesser" the time of day) * A ravenous addict who consumes absolutely anything (The implication not that they are low maintenance and preference-less, but that they are driven by almost mental illness)

It's pretty obvious most people are not either

I agree with you completely.

I'll add the point that if all you've ever eaten is the best of the best, you don't really appreciate something as much as if you've experienced the middle or lower ends.

Anecdote: I dry age my own steaks, and I've realized that people don't really appreciate them as much as if they're eaten side by side with a "control" steak that's unaged.

Similarly to your dry aged steak anecdote, I has two bottles of the same brand of port, one aged 10 years and the other 20. The 10 year tasted great to me, but once I had it alongside the 20 year, I realized the 10 year had a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste which I hadn't noticed drinking it on its own.

I don't know what to even say about this. But I think the point was that you don't necessarily have to be "deeply satisfied" by a whole range of things, but realize that there are good parts of just about everything. Not to mention there was probably a little hyperbole understood in there.

For example: I love beer and consider myself a beer enthusiast. I've brewed it and know all about just every aspect of it. I have traveled to remote monasteries in Belgium to try excellent beers, and enjoyed drinking Dos Equis on a hot summer day by the pool. Most self-described "beer snobs" look down on beers like Corona and the like in favor of some "craft" IPA. Dos Equis isn't my favorite beer, but I recognize its good qualities and when a situation calls for it.

I think the poster was just saying that enthusiasts enjoy many aspects of something across a wide range and don't have to gravitate toward only the "divine once-in-a-lifetime" things.

Of course, maybe I'm totally off base.

My point is it’s fine for a “connoisseur” to only like sushi made of the freshest highest quality fish, perfectly cooked rice, real wasabi, etc., prepared by a specialist and eaten immediately, at a $$$$ restaurant.

It’s also fine for a different “connoisseur” to enjoy store-bought California rolls made from imitation crab and left sitting on a shelf until the rice is stale.

It’s overly reductionist and pretty patronizing to insist that the former doesn’t really like sushi while the latter does (No True Scotsman, and all that).

* * *

P.S. The mainstream brands of Mexican beer are pretty good. Most of the big Mexican breweries were started by German immigrants in the mid-19th century, and there is now a long beer tradition there. Corona’s extensive marketing to the US about tropical getaways and lime slices, etc. has nothing to do with their product or their brand in Mexico, and I find it fairly silly, but it was extremely successful.

>>My point is it’s fine for a “connoisseur” to only like sushi made of the freshest highest quality fish, perfectly cooked rice, real wasabi, etc., prepared by a specialist and eaten immediately, at a $$$$ restaurant.

I disagree for two reasons. First, it is important for any connoisseur to experience a wide range in order to truly appreciate the items on the finer end of the spectrum. Someone who only eats high end sushi is a pretender, not a connoisseur.

Second, low-end restaurants sometimes contain amazing dishes that any connoisseur may enjoy. Similarly, cheap wines have won blind-taste competitions before, even when they were pitched against high-end, expensive wines.

>it’s fine for a “connoisseur” to only like sushi made of the freshest highest quality fish

There are quite a few chefs who believe the best sushi is from fish that has been 'curing' in the cooler a few days.[1] not necessarily the freshest fish. That's because the fish takes on more flavors as it ages. The notion of fish needing to be fresh is more prevalent in north American than it is in Japan.

Remember, some of the first sushi quality fish were flown over in planes back in the early '70s as a way for JAL to make money on the cargo hold of their planes.


> No True Scotsman

The No True Scotsman fallacy doesn't apply to conversations where the topic at hand is discussing what makes someone a Scotsman.

I think that recognizing why a less recognized realisation of a dish is good is part of being a good connoisseur

>P.S. The mainstream brands of Mexican beer are pretty good. thailand, too. singha is an excellent beer.

I think his point is much simpler than you're making it out to be.

Many people might get sucked into watching a Marvel movie because it's a cultural phenomenon and the best executed form of super hero entertainment.

But only an enthusiast will find pour through the back issue bins looking for hidden gems.

I think the number of replies to this is because the basic point is almost correct but not conveyed quite correctly.

If the post said "...if you CAN enjoy something across...spectrum..." it would be more accurate. You don't HAVE to enjoy something across a wide spectrum, you just have to be open to the possibility and have given it a try. If you aren't open then exclusion from 'connoisseur' etc is probably granted.

the word most people use is 'snob'.

I submit that a 'snob' is someone who holds contempt for someone who is not knowledgable in their area of interest. A 'geek' is someone who is excited to teach others about their area of interest.

I contend that a snob is a person who has an articulable reason why they don't like something. Hopefully this isn't too obscure of a reference, but for example I don't like Primus not because they suck, but because I don't like the drummer's snare sound. This makes me a snob about Primus' music.

Your view runs counter to the dictionary definition of snob, which includes a strong negative connotation:

1. a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.

2. a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.

In the first case, a snob substitutes the views of the social elite for his own judgement. In the second case, a snob declares himself a member of the social elite because he holds different views. In both cases, what makes the person a snob is that they are not judging the material qua the material; indeed they are not concerned with the material at all. Instead, they are concerned with social advantage.

I'm not sure there is a word for someone who judges a subject based on the merits. An enthusiast?

Your view runs counter to the dictionary definition of snob

I'm fine with that.

If you want to make "elites" a foundation for a definition, you might as well just roll both of those up into "bourgeois," thought #2 is arguably more "asshole."

For me, an enthusiast might be someone who finds reasons to be into something (the opposite of my def of snob), but I don't think there's a word for simply liking stuff that is good. "Not completely depressed," perhaps.

that is a fantastic gauge and one i live by. for example film critics: if you do not appreciate most films that you watch, then you are in the wrong field.

Interesting thought.

I have a $3k espresso machine but I also love gas station coffee -- there's something about it sitting on a bunn burner for probably 6 hours that adds something to the flavor, or maybe I just associate that flavor with super-early-morning travel, getting up to pick up a friend at 4am, having the blearyness stripped back by the caffeine.

Nice things -- like fancy coffee makers -- are nice, but so are other things.

I dont see a dichotomy in that at all. Nostalgia has great pull. His household didn't have great cooks. Eating hot dogs and other fast food isn't about the taste per se, but rather the whole they represent. So, yeah, he can sincerely enjoy a hot dog, just like the nine year old David enjoyed a hot dog with his family. As an adult, who is a renowned chef, he can also summon other more culinary aspects and gastronomy to enjoy more sophisticated aspects of eating.

A lot of commoner food (like ketchup and soy sauce) would be revolutionary if they were discovered today. Ketchup is the perfect blend of umami (tomato), salt and vinegar. Soy sauce goes well with most anything. Many of the fancy sauces you pay bank are not as good as soy sauce or ketchup. They become common because they are sooo good but also a little boring once you get used to it.

Combining orange and chicken is simple but powerful because they are favorite foods for many people and they have completely different flavor profiles (of course orange chicken could be executed better than Panda Express!).

Sometimes the only real problem with "commoner food" is that, being commercialized, they lose variety, which can lead to that boredom you speak of.

Take ketchup. From what I understand, a century ago, making homemade ketchup was a lot more common, and there was quite a bit more variety in the spices used. (This old cookbook -- http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/settleme... -- has three recipes for "catsup" on page 439-440 alone.) One of my great grand-aunts regularly made ketchup in Indiana, and it was very different from commercial ketchup. A fair bit runnier (no xantham gum), a fair bit "sweeter" (it used regular sugar instead of corn syrup / HFCS which may have contributed to this), and nice notes of garlic.

Commercial store bought ketchup, meanwhile, unfortunately seems stuck either being Heinz ketchup, or imitating Heinz ketchup.

Interesting. Ketchup is actually one of the products that I'm most picky about. When I come to store, I have a choice of 5 - 20 different varieties (depending on the store size); each of them tastes different, every company has a different idea about its consistency (some are dense, some are almost as thin as tomato juice). If they've lost variety, they must have done that over an orthogonal variable I don't even realize could be a spectrum.

My mum always made her own ketchup. I distinctly remember helping as a kid - picking the tomatoes, washing them, hand grinding them and stirring the pot. The whole house would smell deliciously of tomatoes all day long. A sauce evoking that memory would have a strong impact on me.

This is slightly off-topic to the main, but related to things with David Chang in...

The HBO series 'Treme', set in a neighbourhood of New Orleans post-Katrina, prominently features David Chang playing a fictionalised version of himself. One of the main characters spends the second season working under him in New York. Quite odd.

Chang defending shitty American beer — http://www.gq.com/story/david-chang-cheap-beer

Gas station hot dogs with mustard is f*%&ing delicious. And the orange chicken probably has MSG, so it's not for me, but most people like it.

You might want to watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1oR0EYaOHY

It's relevant because it's from Mind of Chef season 1 with David Chang.

Orange chicken at Panda contains wheat, soy, egg, and dairy products. [0] These are all things that are commonly used in fast food to thicken up the taste. Wheat, soy and dairy also have a small element of physical addiction from opioids - it's not just that people like the taste of these things.

[0] https://s3.amazonaws.com/PandaExpressWebsite/files/pdf/Nutri...

Much like us software engineers - don't we like to dabble with embedded, memory limited systems, up to heavily distributed who knows where on earth machines. Or from real-time, to long heavy batch jobs.

Or at least I like reading about the whole spectrum, not only part of it.

He's also an enormous asshole. He refuses to make anything vegetarian, even though everything is prepared to order. E.g. the spicy noodles at the noodle bar just have some crumbled sausage sprinkled on top, but if you ask for the dish without the sausage he will kick you out of the restaurant.

I'm not even a vegetarian, but there's no reason to go out of your way to be a dick towards people who are actually making a considerable personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.

¨Considerable personal sacrifice for the benefit of others?¨

It´s his restaurant. You knew it coming in. He´s not an asshole, he cares about how his food tastes. If you´re not willing to accomodate his wishes, maybe make another considerable personal sacrifice and not go into his restaurant to be served in the way you want. Last I checked, his restaurants are always full. Why would he want your business?

My take from the article was that he actually cares about how people experience the food that he makes. Still, vegetarian cooking is hard. Doing justice to vegetables within a restaurant workflow is hard. Very few restaurants can pull it off. If he simply feels that he can't do it justice, he's probably right. Those things might be regarded as the province of home cooking.

Yep. In order to make a vegan dish that matches the complexity of a meat dish, you essentially have to recreate the entire life of an animal in a kitchen in a single day. You need to create the same complexity with heat, knife, and diversity of ingredients that the animal would've created over months and months of metabolism and grazing. It's extremely difficult, and there is a reason people prefer to just throw a piece of meat on the grill rather than risk their hand at plant-based cooking.

An entire falafel sandwich begins to approach the complexity of a simple fried egg, but doesn't even quite get there. And a chicken can create an egg in a day.

I say all of this lovingly, as a long time vegan. I have a lot of respect for animals.

I am vegetarian (leaning mostly toward veganism) myself and this seems a bit of an overkill... Would you mind explain this a bit more or posting a link to some resource explaining this? I am curious.

Happy to explain more. Let me know what part seems unclear.

An example:

The cow chews grain. The vegan chef grinds it.

The cow ferments plants and seeds in its stomach. The vegan chef ferments in her crock.

The cow extracts sugars, fats and proteins, via her metabolism. The vegan chef uses presses and filters.

The cow measures salt with her thirst, and integrates proteins and sugars in her mammaries. The vegan chef measures with a teaspoon and integrates ingredients in a blender.

The cow tills seeds under the earth with her hoof. The vegan chef presses them into the garden with a finger.

Meat and animal products are the output of the lives of animals. The inputs are plants. Vegan cooking is recreating this work in a consensual way.

Yeah, ok - excepts that, first of all, non-vegan cooking has more or less the same steps. I.e. you can still decide that your steak needs some more salt, or spices, I never heard of people eating their beef "unflavoured" because the cow measured salt by thirst. So what triggered my curiosity was that you were presenting this like extra work needed for vegan dishes only. Maybe I misunderstood.

Sure, you can do things to meat to make it taste better. But just applying heat and salt to a nice piece of meat gets you pretty close to the most delicious possible thing you could put in your mouth.

Maybe I can put it this way: Meat starts at an 8, and you can add complexity to get it up to a 10. But a dry soybean starts at a 0. You can get it up to an 8 by doing a lot of vegan chef work. Or you can get it up to an 8 by letting an animal turn it into meat. My point is that someone has to do the work to get it to an 8. If it's not an animal, it's got to be the chef.

I think a good takeaway is "within a restaurant workflow".

Once you start allowing people to customize dishes, it throws service off and makes things exponentially harder to coordinate. "This dish is vegetarian, going to table 6, along with the gluten free entree." Removes the fungibility from the dishes - with the volumes he's doing, it's a lot easier to say "3 pastas ready" and not give special instructions to the line chefs.

I hadn't thought of that, but it's a good point. I was thinking more in terms of the vegetables being palatable by the time they reach the table. It's a rare restaurant that can pull it off.

I like David Chang but this is textbook hipster affectation. What distinguishes hipsterdom is the penchant for both high and low brow tastes. Drinking PBR and whatever microwbrew is popular in the locale that week. Nothing new or unique about this.

Ha, he actually used the word "isomorphism" correctly, in contrast to recent JavaScript terminology :)

I don't really think he used the concept of "strange loop" correctly, because there is no self-reference involved in his examples. It's more of a "paradox" (something that's undersalted and oversalted at the same time)

I just searched for the JavaScript isomorphism conundrum and did a facepalm. JavaScript seems to be a breeding ground for getting all kinds of things wrong. Just the other day on HN [1] - a JavaScript developer had misused the term "predicate," someone provided a correction, and then a whole host of responses emerged to defend the botched definition in a variety of manipulative ways(appeals to emotion, shame, "it's just like your opinion man," etc.).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12107737

Following your link, I do not see a single defense of the botched definition. The contention seems to be entirely over whether it is bad form to point out an incorrect definition without providing the correct one.

While I agree the ensuing argument was excessive, I'll provide a defense of the "botched" definition.

The top definition for "predicate", that most people are familiar with, and that was omitted from the dictionary quote, is:

> 1. (grammar) The part of the sentence (or clause) which states something about the subject or the object of the sentence.

And in that context, it was a perfectly valid use of predicate, effectively synonymous with "unary function".

Sure, someone could & should have pointed out that the term was confusing because it has a more specific meaning in a computer science context, but all of the responses were simply "you're wrong" and creating in-group/out-group boundaries[1] rather than trying to understand the communication mismatch.

[1] It's usually a bad sign when someone comes in and says "serious programmers should know [...]". :P

I am making serious mental contortions to try to figure out how a grammatical term about the structure of sentences can be synonymous with a unary function and I just can't do it. It seems pretty clear that the instance of the word that inspired that discussion took the computer science definition and mistakenly expanded its definition.

Perhaps I was particularly sensitive to it because it matched my internal models. Here's the way I break it down:

In classical/antiquated grammar, most sentences can be divided into a subject and a predicate. The predicate indicates what the subject does/is. While there are issues with agreement and semantics, on a broad syntactic level, the subject is arbitrary and can be replaced with another valid subject:

    The angry dog  // jumped over the fence.
    My grandmother // jumped over the fence.
    Twelve apples  // jumped over the fence.
Since the predicate encodes the action, to me it makes sense to think of this relationship as a predicate function taking a subject argument. Even if the subject is plural or conceptual it is still just a single subject object, hence unary.

Then, in the OP's js context of Object.map we have a situation like this:

    import map from 'just-map-object';
    function jumpedOverTheFence(subj) { \\ impl };
    var things = ['The angry dog', 'My grandmother', 'Twelve apples'];

    map(things, jumpedOverTheFence);
Obviously I'm doing some weird things for brevity like conflating strings and objects there, but hopefully gets the point across.

IMO the analogy actually extends fairly well too. Agreement is a good match for typing (A singular typed predicate "walks" can't take a plural typed subject "Some dogs" => "Some dogs walks" fails at the syntax level), and semantics match internal expectations of functions (The "12 apples jumped..." breaks internal, but untyped expectation that the subject would have agency or control over its actions, like a "chooseTo" method or a "consciousness" property.)

shrug That's not crazy.

My concern was not the particular question, but the tremendous mischaracterisation of the entire linked discussion.

>a whole host of responses emerged to defend the botched definition in a variety of manipulative ways(appeals to emotion, shame, "it's just like your opinion man," etc.).

Did you link to the correct comment? Because I see absolutely none of what you described.

It seems that disparaging JavaScript is sort of an HN Godwin's law. As an HN discussion grows longer, the probability of disparaging JavaScript approaches 1. Is it really necessary here?

As an X discussion grows longer, the probability of mentioning Y approaches 1 for all values of X and Y.

True. I guess Godwin's law should be updated to take into account how long it takes to reach a probability of 1 for a given topic in a given context.

Is the use of "isomorphic" in "isomorphic javascript" that far off? You're mapping [program, output] pairs from one environment (client) to another (server), ideally creating the same structure. Isn't that an isomorphism? Sure to be mathematically rigorous you'd have to jump through lots of hoops, but the context is closer to Hofstadter's use than abstract algebra.

I'd argue that usage is more "technically" correct than David Chang, who's referring to the _entities_ as the isomorphisms rather than the relationships between them. (Though I understand his usage and find no problem with it in the given context.)

I think it seems like a sensible name to me:

"The term isomorphism literally means sameness (iso) of form (morphism)." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isomorphism_(Gestalt_psycholog...

Perhaps the knowledgable people here (that unfortunately so far have preferred to be flippant and condescending instead of educating) could provide an explanation of showing us why "Isomorphic JavaScript" is a misnomer?

The grandparent's explanation seems correct.

I think the problem stems from considering the running on server and client as the entities, rather than the representation produced on the server and reinstantiated on the client as something that can be manipulated.

But the Liar's Paradox leads to the essence of Godel Incompleteness (Hofstadter starts off with that paradox in GEB as well, to build up a repertoire of modes of thought in the reader). I think the oversalted and undersalted paradox should be seen in the same light, because the point about dishes does seem beautifully isomorphic to godel sentences. The interesting dishes are their own dish, but also a different dish, depending on the system (the taster) in which they are interpreted.

The essence of the Liar's paradox ("this sentence is false") is that the sentence refers to itself -- it's a "strange loop". Godel's incompleteness proof shares this property of self-reference.

There is no self-reference in the paradox of something having 2 properties at once (e.g. undersalted and oversalted).

It is a paradox, but it's not a Liar's paradox or a strange loop. In other words, not all paradoxes are the Liar's paradox.

I don't think it has to be a fully-qualified Strange Loop to be influenced by Hofstadter's thinking.

In order to grok strange loops, one must learn to accept rather than reject paradox. "Logic" doesn't like paradox, and tries to get rid of them when they are encountered. But once you've read GEB, you're sensitized to accept paradox.

I agree that all strange loops are paradoxical, but not all paradoxes are strange loops. Where I don't agree is that just because an idea isn't a strange loop doesn't mean it wasn't inspired by an awareness of strange loops. Without Hofstadter's idea, Chang would never have had this breakthrough on his own.

That's fair, I'll have to clarify myself a bit further. I didn't think of the undersalted/oversalted thing as having two properties at the same time (basically means it is inconsistent, the dish might be both, but you can't taste both). I think it can be likened to the Shepard Tone[1], in the sense that the means a dish can be feeling to get saltier and saltier, and suddenly it's undersalted, without a very strong negative delta.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepard_tone

Well, "isomorphic" JavaScript is not technically incorrect. They just didn't want to use the word "same".

It's the same code on the server side and client side.

So the client and server are isomorphic, because an object is trivially isomorphic to itself.

It's a fine idea to run the same code on the client and server. No problem there. The word choice may be confusing because you expect there to be some deeper concept you are missing.

I think it was more like cognitive dissonance, but with taste. Gustatory dissonance? I don't know that I get it with food as such but I can certainly relate the sensation to wine tasting.

1) Tastes bland. 2) Think about how it tastes. 3) Tastes salty now. 4) Think again about how it tastes. 5) Goto 1.

Hence the "strange loop".

> I got really into experimenting with fermentation

I really like fermented food. Love kefir (fermented milk product), kvass (a Russian fermented bread drink). Pickles, sauerkraut...

He mentions fermented chickpeas. If you get organic foods with less preservatives in them, say some fresh salsa or chickpea salads, it will ferment pretty quickly even in the fridge and you can sort of taste it. I rather like it, and have left some things around long enough for them to ferment a bit.

Btw, if you buy pickles and they have anything else in the ingredients besides spices, water, salt and cucumbers, you are probably getting just boiled cucumbers with vinegar, so the sourness doesn't come from fermentation but from the vinegar. That is a very different taste than a properly fermented pickle. So next time look at the label and see what you are getting. One brand I have been getting lately is Bubbies (http://bubbies.com/kosher_dills) found it in a smaller local store, but there are probably others.

Start making your own kimchi and there is no going back. Stuff goes with everything: in paninis, on oatmeal with a poached egg and sesame seeds, on a baked potato...

Thanks for the tip on the pickles. Hadn't heard this before.

Indeed. It's not hard. My family started making kimchi, by just adapting a mainstream sauerkraut recipe. You have to get the amount of salt right, hence the reason for starting with an "official" recipe. Too much salt will cause "yellow kraut" which is a disaster. We used nappa or Chinese cabbage, and then began to experiment with our own amounts of red pepper and other stuff. A half-gallon batch is not to hard to manage.

On the same subject, you can make your own "refrigerator" pickles, that are fermented in a non sealed container. It's a matter of personal preference when they're ready to eat, and they continue to work, so you can experience a variety of flavors over the space of a couple weeks.

> You have to get the amount of salt right

Correction: you have to simultaneously have TOO MUCH salt and TOO LITTLE salt. I read David Chang one time...

(just practicing how to spin this article for maximum snobbery)

I'm not sure that all pickled food "should" be fermented to attain sourness. It's perfectly normal to pickle many foods in vinegar, is it not? Fermentation changes the flavour in a particular way and you don't always want that (though vinegar also changes it, and in more ways than just souring).

But I'm not a native speaker so maybe I'm confused about the definition of the word "pickling". Does it always imply fermentation? When you do it with vinegar is it just called "preserving" maybe?

I believe Whole Foods also carry that brand.

Britt's Pickles (pike place, Seattle) is wholesaling now but I don't know what their distribution area looks like. They also sell pickling kits if you want to try your own.

His description of saltiness reminded me of something I like to do:

I enjoy braised vegetables cooked so that there are varying levels of doneness throughout. It's as if all the best flavors in each manage to come through and you get this whole spectrum of what it means to be that vegetable.

> I enjoy braised vegetables cooked so that there are varying levels of doneness throughout.

Yes! A common technique among more advanced cooks is to add the same spice multiple times through the cooking process. Spices (and other ingredients) change in flavor in response to heat, so you end up getting several different flavors even though they come from the same original ingredient.

My favorite example of an ingredient that works like this is onions. A fresh onion is super crunchy and so pungent it literally makes your eyes water. Simmer it for hours and you've got French onion soup—something so soft and sweet it's practically a dessert.

That's all the onion changing in response to heat. When you use an onion, you aren't selecting an ingredient. You get to select any precise point on that continuum between sharp and soft that you want, just based on when you put it in.

Even with the same recipe, I'll vary it up each time I make it based on how I'm feeling. Sometimes I want my farmer's omelette to have some crunch and tang so I cook the onions less. Other times I want it smooth and savory so I cook them more.

(And, of course, once you take into account cooking temperature—slow and low versus hot and fast, and how finely you chop them—thickness effects how different the inside and outsides of each piece cook are—you realize even a single ingredient gives you a multi-dimensional space to explore).

> thickness effects how different the inside and outsides of each piece cook are

for most people, the most dramatic example of this is a medium rare (or less) steak. black and blue is the extreme.

> to add the same spice

Interesting, any tips on spices that works particularly well with?

I can totally relate to the desire to have the onions be a bit more or less crunch in an omelette depending on your mood.

I think of it more in terms of different techniques applied at different stages. One example is deglazing. Fry a piece of meat, and little sticky bits of meat and caramelized fat stick to the pan. Remove the meat, wash the pan with wine or some other liquid, scrape the meat remnants into it, and you get a sauce for the meat.

Another variant of the concept is red-eye gravy. Cook sausage, deglaze the pan with coffee. Then the gravy becomes a connector between the sausage you're eating and the coffee you're drinking.

I'm absolutely in love with your description of experiencing "the whole spectrum of what it means to be that vegetable." If you ever have a chance, I would highly recommend going to a farm to table restaurant (or just doing this at home if you access to high quality produce) where they bring you all of the ingredients they will be using that night for your meal raw to be tasted before the meal as a reference point of sorts. It's an absolute delight to anchor the experience of a meal that way and I wish more places would adopt the practice in some form or another.

That's amazing!! I'm surprised that kind of restaurant doesn't exist in New York (or maybe it does and I just don't know about it).

Blue Hill Farm is a little drive north of NYC and this is where I first heard about such a presentation technique. If you can wrangle the time to get out there, go for it!

Blue Hill in the West Village has a raw vegetable dish that changed my view on what vegetables should taste like.

Going to try both, never tried either one when I lived in NYC.

True not just for doneness but other attributes as well. Having ingredients chopped not too uniformly, charring only some of the surface, throwing in the same ingredient later in the cooking process, etc. are other ways of getting the same ingredient on the plate in different ways.

> chopped not too uniformly, charring only some of the surface, throwing in the same ingredient later in the cooking process

Yes! I do that stuff too. Making me hungry just thinking about it.

This is way more Godel, Escher, Bach than you expected in an article by a chef.

Sure, but he totally missed the idea of the book. Something tasting salty and not salty is not an instance of self-reference and neither were any of his other examples.

I don't think he missed the idea at all. He's not saying that his food is an example of a strange loop or self-reference. He's saying that the reaction to a dish can be similar to the reaction of coming across a strange loop. He says that "When you hit a strange loop like this, it shifts your point of view: Suddenly you aren’t just thinking about what’s happening inside the picture; you’re thinking about the system it represents and your response to it". That's the idea that he wanted to express in his food. He then provides the example of Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice cakes and other dishes that expressed that idea for him. All those dishes were no longer just about the dish, but about the reaction and response to the dish.

That's a good reading of it! I was hoping he would reach for a deeper connection though.

You're right, that would be very cool (but IMHO also a little unlikely). He did right though, by not forcing this deeper connection when it's not really there, instead referencing that "huh?" feeling, which is common to both.

If you are in NYC, I highly recommend momofuku noodle bar and momofuku ssam bar. I've never been to Ko, but I've heard great things. I'd recommend taking a pass on ma peche.

Ko is allright, definitely check it out (my write up [0]). I've done 5/6 of the 3 Michelin stars in NYC and 5/10 2-star ones, and if you only want to pick one, Ko is allright but I would recommend Atera instead of Ko from the 2-star tier. For the really great stuff in 3-star tier, definitely Chef's Table Brooklyn Fare.

That said, ssam bar and noodle bar are both good, but don't forget Fuku, the chicken sandwiches are very juicy!

[0]: https://rafal.io/posts/momofuku-ko-new-york.html

Ko is fantastic — we did the tasting menu with the full drink pairing. The courses aren't big individually, but there's 17 of them and they add up quickly.

Or Toronto for the noodle bar.

Ko is a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

> Suddenly you aren’t just thinking about what’s happening inside the picture; you’re thinking about the system it represents and your response to it.

This is what true art is about.

His use of "unfamiliarity" as a tool to evoke a shift in your point of view is actually a classic artistic device called "Defamiliarization"[1]. That is: The artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception of the familiar.

Or as Viktor Shklovsky put it first: The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.

On step further it can be described with the "Wundt" or "Hedonic curve"[2] that basically says, the most interesting experiences are those that are similar-yet-different to those that have been experienced previously.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamiliarization [2]: http://natcomp.liacs.nl/images/wundt.jpg

Interesting personal anecdote on salt.

After our marriage, my wife's mother shared her precious cookbook with her and asked her to copy/translate it. My wife did so and she used that as the basis of her cooking since.

There was one important component of the recipes that my mother in law had neglected to add since it was second nature to her.

"Add salt to taste."

I was always confounded whenever I tasted the food that my wife made from one of those recipes and when I tasted the exact same food when my mother in law made it.

It was only a while later that we found out what the cause of the inconsistency was.

This was one of the biggest level-ups in my own personal cooking, realizing that salting (and to a much lesser extent peppering) to taste makes or breaks the dish. Most home cooks I know will skip that step out of ignorance or health concerns, not realizing that it will make the dish taste awful.

Why do you enjoy simple restaurant dishes (including salads) much more than your home-cooked equivalents? Salt.

I bought some truffle salt a couple years ago and now half the time I'm using flavored salts of one variety or another.

When I dry rosemary I put all the broken bits and stems in a jar with some salt and leave it for a while, then I separate them before use. I'm curious what would happen if I just put a bunch of fresh sprigs in a jar to dry them, but I would have to start gifting it to people because damn that's a lot of salt.

And butter. Don't discount the nice creamy dish is complimented with a knob of butter near the end.

Last summer, my daughter was working as a prep/line cook in a sort of odd highbrow/lowbrow place. She is extremely sensitive to chili peppers - so much so that it's effectively an allergy for her. So for some dishes where chilis and "taco seasoning" (made in house) were "to taste", she'd have others taste-test for her. At one point, the head chef asked why she did that. She told him it was because "to taste", for her, would mean no chili peppers or taco seasoning in the dish!

That is an implicit step in the vast majority of recipes, so it's not surprising she missed it. Outside of some baking, you can rarely measure salt anyway, but you should always be considering it.

I noticed one of the photo captions in the article. It was suffixed with the following phrase:

"David Chang wears a Michael Kors sweater; Levi’s jeans; Satellite Wave watch by Citizen."

I would expect such a caption more from a fashion magazine than from a publication like WIRED. Is that a WIRED policy to treat its article subjects as fashion celebrities or was that just something added by a Photo editor/agency?

Fantastic article in every other way though.

I see it as a statement about Chang himself. As stated in another comment, Chang is both pretentious and not at the same time, and as paradoxical as his theory on flavor. This is reflected in his fashion, as well.

Wired has [gotten very much away from its roots](https://pmcwwd.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/wired-rashida04.j...). I believe they're pursuing a 'lifestyles' focus and it's really gone downhill.

I agree it's a little unusual, but I don't see how it detracts from the article in any way.

It absolutely doesn't detract from the article in any objective way. It's just a pet peeve and probably misplaced considering David Chang is also a TV celebrity in addition to a masterful Chef.

I believe my reaction went something like, "that's great. Who gives a shit?" but then I did get up on the wrong side of the bed today.

Really great article. I think I had some kind of weird meta-experience reading it where I was reminded of Godel, Escher, Bach in the unfamiliar context of cooking. I'm sure the author of this article would've appreciated that (as well as the author of G.E.B.).

I have a love of crunchy foods. I mainly love the crunchy sound as I eat them.

Is there an evolutionary theory of why I might have evolved to love these? The only theory I could think of is that they're a marker of freshness in some vegetables. But nature never made anything as crunchy as the crunchy foods I love.

Cooked meat can have a crunchy burned exterior, which indicates wonderful tasty easily-digestible protein, great for our energy intensive brains.

Perhaps the crunchiness is related to a sense of safety? If you were being hunted, you'd hog down your food and wouldn't really get a chance to savor the sound it makes when you eat it.

(I'm completely riffing though)

Bones, and the marrow hiding within.

Well, this theory explains the appeal of a hot fudge brownie sundae. A warm brownie and cold vanilla ice cream, individually are both pretty good, but combining them becomes hypnotic.

As long as you eat it before the ice cream melts and the brownie gets cold.

That is so amazing and goes with the theory put forth in the book On Intelligence (by Jeff Hawkins). The theory is that the mind noticies things that are out of place. If it is too close to an existing pattern, brain will put it into that pattern. To stabd out the new item/concept has to be far enough from any existing pattern. So if a dish is salty and not salty at the same time, it doesnt fit in any of two patterns familier to the brain.

Did anyone get any actionable concepts from that article? Seems like an interesting read but not sure how to any of it to my own cooking.

More glutamic acid. Oddly enough, my family already makes two of the magic dishes mentioned in the article: The pork buns and Ma Po's tofu.

In my view, there's not much that a home cook can learn from a chef. Julia Child commented on the difference, and thought that being a good home cook is an art unto itself. A lot of what we do in home cooking is the art of the possible. We deal what's available at the supermarket, in season, whatever we can grow in our backyard gardens, etc. We may have limited equipment and limited budgets. Some of us live with vegetarians.

For instance, in our case the pork buns are made using our pizza dough recipe, and baked. We don't have those amazing giant steamers that you see in the kitchen when you go to dim sum. Our Ma Po's tofu is vegetarian, much as I love the combination of tofu and pork.

> In my view, there's not much that a home cook can learn from a chef. Julia Child commented on the difference, and thought that being a good home cook is an art unto itself. A lot of what we do in home cooking is the art of the possible. We deal what's available at the supermarket, in season, whatever we can grow in our backyard gardens, etc. We may have limited equipment and limited budgets. Some of us live with vegetarians.

I think there's a ton we can learn from chefs. Personally, I've learned a few things from Alton Brown, particularly about reproduce-ability; being able to reproduce a recipe that you cooked once that turned out well. In an interview with him (I think it was on Radiolab but not sure) he mentioned increasing the accuracy of your measurements: use a thermometer to measure heat and measure your dry ingredients by weight, not by volume.

Perhaps... just try something and see if it makes sense, then figure out why.

That's cooking, surely.

Can anyone recommend sources (preferably online) along the lines of cooking theory similar to this?

Not online AFAIK, but "Taste What You're Missing" by Barb Stuckey is a pretty readable book. It's more about how the tasting works on the human side than the actual cooking part, but it goes into some detail about how different tastes work together, as well as why different people taste differently. It was helpful to me to sort of emphasize the high variation in tastes between people.

Modernist Cuisine is probably the most well known reference for actual cooking theory, but it's crazy expensive, and some people have problems with supporting Myhrvold.

> Modernist Cuisine is probably the most well known reference for actual cooking theory

This was what I was expecting from this article, instead of a cooking philosophy, not that there's anything wrong with that. What I got served just didn't match the expectations.

It might not be similar but "How To Cook Like Heston" is awesome. It's by Heston Blumenthal who specializes in using science to understand cooking. Give him a shot.

There's an excellent MOOC taught by the likes of McGee, Adria and Dan Barber to name just a few. David Chang has a section on fermentation. https://www.edx.org/course/science-cooking-haute-cuisine-sof...

I know you said preferably online but see if any library you have access to has a copy of the five volume set Modernist Cuisine.

Incidentally the guy behind them has a fascinating, and tech relevant, biography.

You're forgetting one of the biggest patent trolls, too.

Is that relevant? It doesn't make his other positive and fascinating achievements any less great.

I believe that a super negative act can easily mar someone's reputation, and I think most on HN would agree that Intellectual Ventures is a pox on our industry. Similarly, lots of people on HN have changed their perception of Theil after his gawker stints have come to light.

Looks like it could be possible with a bit of trouble, they'd have to get it from another library. Is it worth the hassle?

You can start with 'Modernist Cuisine at Home' which is much cheaper, that's what I have. Then, when ready, upgrade to the full book.

Good lord that set is expensive- over $500!

No e-book version either.

I like his food. I think a lot of his fame is due to his attitude but I do applaud him for trying to think more meta about what we think we like to eat.

offtopic: has wired stopped blocking adblock users?

I just checked, they are still using their anti-blocker on other articles, but for this specific article it does not kick-in.

I find it entertaining that they consider Ghostery and ad-blocker. I don't mind ads, but I do mind things that track me.

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