David Chang, Mario Batali, and Peter Meehan drew a crowd of well over 100 people to the Strand last night to promote Chang’s debut cookbook, Momofuku, co-written by Meehan. They were joined unexpectedly by Rachael Ray, who popped up during the Q&A; session. As Batali talked of smuggling foreign ingredients and foodstuffs through customs in his golf bag, Rachael Ray got the mike and explained her strategy: She puts other quasi-illegal items in her suitcase to draw the agent’s attention away from the food. Chang was once tempted to smuggle in fresh sancho berries from Kyoto, but said he backed down because “there were bugs.” Ray reminisced with Batali about their long-ago Iron Chef appearance, gushed about her respect for the two chefs, and then made a quick exit. Read the highlights below to learn how Batali and Chang make hires and what Mr. Molto plans for Del Posto.
What chefs are looking for when hiring their kitchen staff:
Batali: “I can tell in 30 seconds, sometimes, on whether they’re going to make it. You can tell by someone in the passion, in the intensity, and yet in the kindness in their eyes on whether they’re going to make it or not. Because quite frankly, you can teach a chimp how to make pork buns, but you can’t teach a chimp to love it and want it.”
Chang: “I have a terrible temper.”
Batali: “Oh, do you?”
Chang: “I hate saying it, but when people come in, in 30 seconds I can tell, not if they are going to work or not, but I ask them, ‘Do you want to be a statistic?’”
Chang: “Most of them are like, ‘You’re crazy.’ They’re scared.”
On Del Posto’s comeback:
Chang: Mark Ladner is an amazing, amazing chef, and most of New York probably doesn’t even know who he is, but the guy can throw down.
Batali: And we’re really focusing right now on making sure people understand that. Some of our stars were taken away this year and given to Chang. We don’t want them back from him, but we want them back from someone who doesn’t deserve them.
Which ingredients stump the chefs:
Chang: “Pulled foie gras. It’s a total disaster. I’m dead set on creating foie gras like taffy.”
Batali: “Mine is weird old animals. Someone gave me a bear shoulder awhile back … it’s still simmering.”
Chang on Batali:
Chang: “Mario is so many different things. And I’m not trying to blow smoke up his ass. He really tries to help out everyone. And you can’t say that about everyone in New York.”