Jim Yong Kim: You know, in a recent speech we made it clear that there is no path to the end of pover­ty with­out improv­ing the pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of agri­cul­ture, and find­ing a way that as cli­mate change reduces the amount of arable land that we can feed every­one. Now, David has been one of my heroes. You know, when I was at Dartmouth, my board mem­bers said, If there’s one per­son in the world that we could intro­duce you to, who would it be?.” And I said David Chang.

He’s a Korean-American like me. He was a cham­pi­on golfer at the age of ten. And he is now one of the most famous, respect­ed chefs in the entire world. And his ded­i­ca­tion to per­fec­tion was some­thing that I knew about. But what I learned after we got to know each oth­er was that David and all of the oth­er great chefs in the world don’t just think about mak­ing deli­cious food, but think about mak­ing deli­cious food that can feed the entire world. And he knew so much about grow­ing meth­ods, and he knew so much about so many aspects of feed­ing peo­ple that I sug­gest­ed to him that we have this conversation.

I don’t think he knew what he was get­ting into, but we’re thrilled to have him here. and I think that enlist­ing the great chefs of the world in think­ing about how to feed the world is some­thing that we’re we’re going to com­mit to going for­ward, and we’re thrilled to know that there are many chefs who are com­mit­ted to the same task. 

So first of all, Dave, you have talked about redefin­ing edi­bil­i­ty. What the heck does that mean?

David Chang: I think we just need to take a look at what we find to taste good. And I think a lot of peo­ple throw away food. As Juergen [Voegele] men­tioned, we throw away 1.3 bil­lion tons of food a year. That’s a third of the food that is pro­duced. Which is just prob­a­bly the eas­i­est way to reduc­ing hunger in the world. Being more resource­ful, much more fru­gal about it. And I just think that that’s the issue at hand. 

And as a chef, we try to make deli­cious food out of things that are not nor­mal­ly deli­cious, using tech­niques like fer­men­ta­tion, which I’m very pas­sion­ate about. Other peo­ple are look­ing at insects and find­ing ways to find pro­tein in things you would nev­er look at before, and mak­ing that acces­si­ble to every­body, and real­iz­ing that you know, food can be deli­cious in many ways that you might not nor­mal­ly think. 

Kim: So, when you guys think about this num­ber, eight hun­dred mil­lion peo­ple that go hun­gry every day, how would you start? I’ve mean, you’ve talked to me about grow­ing meth­ods, we’ve got to change grow­ing meth­ods. We’ve got to change the way we han­dle food. We have to change food sub­si­dies, make it more expen­sive for peo­ple can pay. So what would be a plan that you guys could could help us launch?

Chang: I think that first and fore­most that [I] as a chef can do is increase knowl­edge and aware­ness. And have some type of pro­grams out there that make peo­ple know that food lit­er­al­ly is plant­ed, some lives are tak­en. And then there’s a very rich process that [gets] involved. And the more you’re able to respect that, I think the less waste you’re going to be able to create.

Kim: Is there a dif­fer­ence though between deli­cious food and hav­ing more sus­tain­able sys­tems that are adapt­ed to local conditions?

Chang: As some­one that has learned about cook­ing and worked with farm­ers you real­ize that sus­tain­able grow­ing things the right way is not mutu­al­ly exclu­sive; it’s sort of the same thing. Growing things the right way and mak­ing deli­cious food is sort of one and the same to me.

Kim: And if you were to tell us… I know you have direct rela­tion­ships with a lot of the farms, the grow­ers, and the pro­duc­ers. What are they doing dif­fer­ent­ly, espe­cial­ly the ones who are sup­ply­ing food to you? What are the kinds of things that then poten­tial­ly could be scaled in oth­er parts of the world?

Chang: You know, when you first start cook­ing, you know that you need to work with the right farm­ers, you hear that they’re doing it the right way, what­ev­er that may be. And then as you build a rela­tion­ship you see that it’s like any­thing else that’s great. They care about it so much more. And at the end of the day, you have to care about food, and the more we care about it the more deli­cious it is. And when you see farm­ers, whether it’s some­one that’s rais­ing free-range pigs, they’re giv­ing them the option—not the option, but they’re rais­ing a health­i­er pig. 

Kim: Do they taste better?

Chang: It tastes bet­ter. A hap­pi­er ani­mal tastes more deli­cious, too. And as a cook you want to bring that out to the guest that’s eat­ing it as well.

Kim: You know, the Momofuku restau­rants. I mean, one of the things that every­one on my team knows is that when we go to New York, and we go there a lot, we’ve got to make a stop at one of your restau­rants, right. So, Momofuku means lucky peach” in Japan, but it’s also the first name of Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese/Japanese sort of rev­o­lu­tion­ary who invent­ed instant ramen.

Chang: Correct.

Kim: So, what were you think­ing? I mean, you know, he did that because he want­ed to feed the world. That was specif­i­cal­ly his goal.

Chang: Right, and it was also a war-torn Japan, because he was an expa­tri­ate to Japan after World War II. And I think that… That was real­ly inter­est­ing to. You know, I make food for very few peo­ple. Let’s be hon­est, here. Very very few peo­ple com­par­a­tive­ly to the peo­ple that need to eat well. And the more I’m in this busi­ness, the more I want to feed every­body. And that’s real­ly the goal. Our goal is to make great food. And you don’t want to just make it for a few select peo­ple, because the peo­ple that need to real­ly eat well in this world are the… They have the worst access to it. And that just does­n’t sit right with me.

Kim: Well, so if you look at what Momofuku Ando did, tell me what was your path there. So, you you were a cham­pi­on golfer. You went to a great school, Trinity College. You were think­ing about doing a lot of things. You were a reli­gion major. Now, I know your dad owned a lot of restau­rants, and your mom’s a great cook. But how do you make that deci­sion, because I tell you, when I heard that you had become a chef, I thought oh my good­ness, Korean-American par­ents, son becomes a chef, they must’ve gone crazy. How did you make that choice? And tell me about your evolution.

Chang: Well, my dad was in the restau­rant busi­ness. He basi­cal­ly worked his entire life to ensure that I would nev­er work in the restau­rant indus­try because it is such a hard, hard job to have. And that’s why I love every­body so dear­ly that works in this indus­try, whether it’s the farm­ers, the pur­vey­ors, or the peo­ple actu­al­ly mak­ing your food, it real­ly is a labor of love, and it’s some­thing that I’m real­ly ded­i­cat­ed to improv­ing upon from every facet.

But in terms of how I got there, and open­ing up Momofuku, I worked in fan­cy restau­rants try­ing to learn the best tech­niques. Because you want to learn how to make great food. And that nec­es­sar­i­ly was­n’t the way I grew up eat­ing. Having a dad, we would eat a lot of noo­dles, we would eat a vari­ety of things. Growing up in a Korean house­hold, I did­n’t know that good food, at least in America, seemed to only be in fine din­ing establishments. 

And then hav­ing the lux­u­ry and oppor­tu­ni­ty of liv­ing abroad, trav­el­ing abroad, all over the world, you real­ize that great food is amaz­ing at all price points. And some of the best eat­ing in the world is on the low­er end. And that’s when I was like, wait. Great food should be avail­able for every­body. And that’s…you know, using Momofuku Ando as an exam­ple, that watch­ing every­one eat well, that’s an expe­ri­ence that hope­ful­ly, I want every­one to have. That deli­cious moment in their mind where you’re not think­ing about any­thing else. And the real­i­ty is many peo­ple haven’t had that expe­ri­ence. And that’s some­thing that is real­ly uni­ver­sal, in my opinion.

Kim: So Dave, we at one point talked about food sub­si­dies. And you told me some­thing that shocked me at the time. You said food should be more expen­sive. And then we looked into this and we found that food sub­si­dies in the world are a huge expense. And that the like­li­hood is that it ben­e­fits the rich more than it ben­e­fits the poor. It’s the same thing that we found with fuel sub­si­dies, that the rich get more of the ben­e­fit. So tell me about that. What can we do about food sub­si­dies and their exis­tence in the world?

Chang: I think we should sub­si­dize the things that are actu­al­ly good for you to eat. Again, I men­tioned that some of the most nutri­tious, most need­ed things to eat in your diet are not avail­able to peo­ple in food deserts, and that are on the pover­ty lev­el. So if we can make that more avail­able, I think that’s the first step to alle­vi­at­ing that problem.

Kim: And tell me about some of the oth­er— The thing that’s been great for me to find out is that the great chefs of the world some­how come togeth­er. You’re very good friends. And so the the num­ber one restau­rant in the world, Noma, René Redzepi’s a good friend of yours. And I’ve seen pho­tos of him lit­er­al­ly walk­ing around Copenhagen pick­ing like, grass­es and things off the fields. Tell me about some of these chefs and what, you know—they’re mak­ing great food, they’re mak­ing mon­ey, they’re becom­ing famous. But it seems like there’s now a grow­ing move­ment, just like you, in want­i­ng to help feed the entire world.

Chang: You know, all of the chefs, they’ve real­ized that we’re in this togeth­er. And that a lot of the shared prob­lems that we’re going through are expe­ri­ences that are real­ly a glob­al prob­lem. And feed­ing oth­er peo­ple is some­thing that we do. We are in the hos­pi­tal­i­ty busi­ness, and some­times I have to remind myself that that’s why I’m in this busi­ness, is to make oth­er peo­ple happy.

And it does­n’t have to be locat­ed just with­in our restau­rants. You brought up René Redzepi, who’s real­ly helped rev­o­lu­tion­ize the glob­al food move­ment. And one of the things that he’s been instru­men­tal in is show­ing that food does­n’t have to be that what you think it is. Again, he’s real­ly been a pro­po­nent of redefin­ing edi­bil­i­ty. You could be step­ping on food right now. And that’s just…challenging the sta­tus quo of what food can be and uti­liz­ing his years of knowl­edge and the team­work involved to mak­ing that deli­cious. In fact it has been rat­ed like the num­ber one restau­rant in the world. So it just goes to show you that if you’re deter­mined to make it deli­cious it can happen.

Kim: What do you think is going to be the chal­lenge for us? I mean, how can we do this? How can we work togeth­er with the great chefs of the world to begin a very dif­fer­ent kind of con­ver­sa­tion about how to feed the world? Because, you know, the sys­tems in place now I think no one’s hap­py with, right. 

We some­time sub­si­dize farm­ers in wealthy coun­tries and take those and drop them in oth­er places, and it can can real­ly hurt local mar­kets, and the qual­i­ty of the food’s not that great. What would it look like? And I’m ready to make a com­mit­ment to you guys right now and bring these groups togeth­er so that we can start this new con­ver­sa­tion. What would it look like?

Chang: Well, as a chef I’m not the per­son that’s on the front lines. In fact I’m bare­ly per­son that’s mak­ing the food these days any­more. And it’s using that prin­ci­ple in the sense that we are good at telling nar­ra­tives, whether it’s a din­er eat­ing at our restau­rants, or a nar­ra­tive of some­body we’re work­ing with and we can shed light upon. And the spot­light real­ly should be upon the peo­ple that are in the trench­es. We have a cou­ple here today, Chido Govera, David Hertz, who you’ll hear their sto­ries momen­tar­i­ly. And what they’re doing is real­ly what should be emu­lat­ed and copied about find­ing ways to feed peo­ple, feed peo­ple well.

Kim: Alright. We make the promise. We will bring that coali­tion togeth­er. We hope to host you here. We’ll come to your meet­ings, and this is the right con­ver­sa­tion. So, you know, giv­en that, the rea­son I think I love your food so much is because I think our fathers grew up about twen­ty miles apart in Korea. They have the same accent. So I think we share taste buds in some real way. 

But what are your chal­lenges in mak­ing deli­cious food? I mean, you’ve been cred­it­ed with inno­va­tion after inno­va­tion. What’s the hard­est thing now? What’s the next thing? Brussel sprouts, buns, all these great things that you’ve done. How are you think­ing now, in terms of chang­ing the idea of what is great food again?

Chang: For me right now, it’s about growth and scal­a­bil­i­ty. And I feel like change can only hap­pen through hav­ing a voice that can real­ly change how peo­ple grow food, peo­ple are mar­ket­ed food. And we want to be part of that con­ver­sa­tion. So, I know how to feed peo­ple, whether it be a thou­sand peo­ple a day, what­ev­er num­ber we feed today. But again, that’s not chal­leng­ing enough to me anymore.

Kim: Really?

Chang: Yeah.

Kim: What’s the vision? What’s it going to be?

Chang: You know, pri­vate­ly, for me it’s I want my cooks to get paid bet­ter. And I know that if we can do that and still be prof­itable, we’re going to be a good cus­to­di­an to our envi­ron­ment. We’re going to be good neigh­bors. We’re going to be great sup­port­ers of our farm­ers. And just focus on local, being great at that. And then again, sup­port­ing the peo­ple on a much larg­er scale, that can do it much bet­ter than we ever can.

Kim: Will we see Momofuku gold­en arch­es every­where in the world someday?

Chang: You know what? Probably ten years ago I would have laughed at that and prob­a­bly said no. But if we can do it right and make it bet­ter than what’s avail­able out there, I’m not going to say no. Because some­thing has to improve. And whether we’re it or some­body else, that’s what we have to support.

Kim: That’s great. So, we’re going to make this hap­pen. We’re going to take this for­ward. And what else do you want to tell us about? I mean, this busi­ness is so dif­fi­cult. I mean the restau­rant busi­ness is noto­ri­ous­ly so, so dif­fi­cult. And what can we do here at a place like the World Bank Group? If the restau­rant busi­ness is dif­fi­cult in New York City, if the restau­rant busi­ness is dif­fi­cult is Washington DC, you can imag­ine all the chal­lenges of get­ting food to peo­ple in some of the real­ly real­ly poor places that we work. So, could you imag­ine some kind of effort that we took on togeth­er in a devel­op­ing coun­try some­where to try to real­ly rethink food from the ground up?

Chang: Absolutely. Two things that come to mind are, espe­cial­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries, is we need to have some type of pro­gram, a men­tor­ship pro­gram, teach­ing peo­ple how to cook and arm­ing them with knowl­edge. It’s a low-tech solu­tion that is very pow­er­ful. If they know how to store food prop­er­ly and use ways to pre­serve it bet­ter, that’s extraordinarily…you know, that’s going to work, with­out a doubt. We just need to be focused on edu­ca­tion. And the sec­ond thing, in my opin­ion, is improv­ing logis­tics. I think a lot of devel­op­ing coun­tries don’t have the elec­tric­i­ty, or the trans­porta­tion needs, to procur­ing fresh fruit or using elec­tric­i­ty for refrig­er­a­tion, and these are things that obvi­ous­ly peo­ple need.

Kim: Great.

Further Reference

Overview page for the MAD at the World Bank: The Future of Food” event.