Last night at the Tenement Museum's Culinary Talks, Peter Meehan grilled Danny Bowien about cooking Chinese food as a Korean-American, and surprisingly, Bowien went on record as saying that Mission Chinese is overhyped — his words, not ours. "I think we’re probably one of the most overhyped restaurants," he said.
Naturally, we had to pick his brain on that statement, catching up with the chef after the talk to ask him about expansions, criticism, and that Momofuku Spandex video.
"There are a lot of other restaurants out there that definitely work 10 times as hard as we do and make food 10 times better than us," Bowien told The Daily Meal last night. "I think we’re really blessed; whatever attention we’re getting right now we’re super lucky. It would be unrealistic for me to be like, 'Oh yeah I deserve everything,' because I’m still learning."
But of course, Bowien has been getting his share of criticism (despite Mission Chinese being named one of the top 20 most important restaurants in America by Bon Appétit). "Obviously there’s going to be a backlash, as with anything that gets too popular," Bowien said. "I was talking to somebody the other day and they were like, 'I hate Jay-Z.' I was like how do you hate Jay-Z? Obviously because he’s always in the spotlight, he’s always talked about, so I don’t think you actually hate Jay-Z. It was one of my friends and she likes everything that is new and if it’s not new anymore, well then... We try to make everyone happy, and you can’t at the end of the day."
Bowien, who once flew his entire San Francisco kitchen staff to China to try the food, doesn't lay any claim to authenticity, but does still eat around Chinatown and Flushing to get it right. "That’s what’s hard about [the criticism]," he said. "We’re proud of everything we do, and you work so hard and you put everything into it and your cooks are working so hard... But it’s still hard when you wake up in the morning and read someone saying Mission Chinese sucks, you know?"
Naturally, Bowien wants to get the infrastructure of the business settled before opening another Mission Chinese, so those rumors of a Paris location? Probably not happening anytime soon (although he did just get back from a vacation there). "We were just hanging out in Paris. Nothing is finalized anywhere, it’s all a pipe dream," Bowien said. "Something was published recently saying, 'Danny Bowien is definitely opening in Paris,' but I’ve never said that. Anything is a possibility, but we have nothing confirmed yet. I think the biggest thing now is making sure we focus on what we have before we branch out." Same goes for the possible Brooklyn, N.Y., location: "I don’t think we’re going to open in Brookyln, I don't know. It’s another challenge. Opening in Manhattan was the hardest thing in the world. I’d love to open in Brooklyn, so we’ll see. You’ll hear something soon."
And as for that '80s-tastic cooking workout video featuring Bowien in blue Spandex with Christina Tosi? "That’s Peter Meehan's fault," Bowien said. "I don’t know how he convinced me to do it. He said I would be in the background lifting weights, but I was in Spandex. It's funny because if you look in the video I look very unhappy because our ice machine had broken and we had all these issues at the restaurant. But it was fun. I think you can’t take yourself too seriously."