Famed Momofuku chef and owner David Chang has co-opted just about everything—Japanese culture, Tourette’s syndrome, pies and anti-authoritarianism—in his fast boil to celebrity status. Now, he’s taken the rude-boy, design-savvy, street ’zine and made that his own as well. Chang’s Lucky Peach quarterly, published and distributed by McSweeney’s Insatiables, is self-indulgent, ego-driven, masturbatory food hipsterism at its worst—but, adhering to the fundamental contradiction that follows Chang around like the scent of donuts and booze, also at its best.
The first issue is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to ramen. Editorially, that translates to 1. making Chang and his erstwhile posse (Anthony Bourdain, Peter Meehan, Wylie Dufresne, etc.) come across as cooler than thou and 2. a ramshackle list of ramen-oriented features and art, except when a non sequitur curveball is thrown to reinforce how recklessly badass the aforementioned posse is.
Reading through this cult of personality is a lot like prepping a pork belly for ramen. It’s tough, takes a long time, is vaguely smelly and makes you want to wash your hands a lot—but, extending the metaphor, there’s a reward. Lucky Peach No. 1 also includes a visual and informational breakdown of regional ramen styles throughout Japan, an elaborate history of ramen, and several compelling and well-documented recipes. Many of the recipes are essentially unfinished, which has a conspiratorial and collaborative allure: You hate Chang’s well-constructed celebrity propaganda, but you’re seduced by being included in the experiment.
The 176-page magazine also has outstanding features on Ivan Orkin, a soft-spoken Jewish New Yorker successfully running ramen shops in Japan; understanding alkalinity; how to spend an hour poaching an egg; the Kay & Ray’s potato chip factory; and a few other lively topics. Indeed, as the veneer of chef cool wipes away like runny egg, the real content and excellent design, photography and illustration complete the transformation from revulsion to fascination. We may be at a point in time where making a magazine such as this one—wherein advertising is eschewed in favor of art—requires a David Chang and a Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s). As depressing as that is, remaining ungrateful of their willingness to participate and of their clear enthusiasm for the project is almost impossible.
We may also be grateful that Chang’s original concept for Lucky Peach—a television show—never manifested. In case you were wondering, yes, there is an app for this, coming to the iPad in July.
The iPad version is designed as a complement to the print version. It won’t have everything the magazine does, especially not the dreamy paper quality and bookshelf status power, but it will have additional features, including quite a bit of video. There’s bound to be plenty of tomfoolery and even more starfucking, but there’s also going to be additional valuable instruction featuring Chang’s biggest asset: his willingness to fail, to go big or go home. That, of course, is what makes his ventures so successful. His peach is a lucky one, but he’s sharing his good fortune for all it’s momofuking worth.
LUCKY PEACH No. 1
Edited by Chris Ying, David Chang and Peter Meehan
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