By Tanner Saunders
July 11, 2019
Courtesy of Michael Simon

Restaurateur, celebrity chef, and TV star David Chang has built an empire of restaurants around the world, including the two-Michelin-starred Ko in Manhattan. But besides simply serving mouth-watering food from Sydney to Los Angeles and back again, Chang has taught us how to appreciate food, to learn from food, and to respect it.

Take Chang’s Netflix show, “Ugly Delicious,” as an example. On a journey around the world, Chang and his pals explore what makes our favorite foods great — fried chicken, home cooking, pizza — by finding who’s doing it best, who’s doing it different, and why those stories matter.

With a new season of “Ugly Delicious” in the pipeline, plus too many new restaurants in the works to count, Chang teamed up with American Express and Boxed to launch a collection of summer essentials that will earn eligible Amex cardholders 10x rewards points.

We met up with Chang at an Amex party celebrating the return of the Amex Rose Gold card to talk about what’s going on in the culinary world, where to travel if you want to eat as good as him, and how to be a better home cook.

Travel + Leisure: What’s great about food in the U.S. right now?

David Chang: “Well, the good thing about food right now is that it's getting decentralized from the major, huge cities. So food is better than ever, but it may not be where you traditionally think it's going to be, the cities that you think it's going to be.”

What cities should be on our radar?

“I've been a huge fan of Houston. There's things going on in Dallas, Minneapolis. You know, cities with a lot of people, and you have cooks and restaurants that are opening up that maybe in the past have opened up in a city like New York. Now it’s flattening out elsewhere and that's very exciting to see people take big chances that it's getting harder to find a new york.”

You’ve traveled the world tasting food and exploring different regions. What advice do you have for travelers?

“I think that the best advice I can give is throw the travel guides away and just get lost and discover your own path.”

Is there a favorite place you’ve traveled recently?

“I was in Istanbul this year and I think that it is probably the most exciting city I've been to for food in a long time. It's beautiful, number one. But it's just got such a rich and storied history, but because of its storied history, it has all kinds of cuisine there that's sort of merged into something that's very unique and influenced that entire region. Most importantly, incredibly delicious.”

What should we eat in Turkey?

“Doner and all the kabobs — lot of grilled meats.”

Anywhere else you’d recommend?

“I was also in Cambodia. That was eye opening and also a place that I think a lot more people should visit.”

As someone who knows their way around a kitchen. What advice do you have for a novice cook at home?

“I think the best advice I can give is: you have to make mistakes. Unfortunately, that's the only way [people] get better — just by trying things out. That's the best way. I swear. No one's born a good cook.

“We have a lot of restaurants to work on. We have the next season of ‘Ugly Delicious’ coming up. Actually it's just freaks me out thinking about how much stuff we got. [Laughs]”

Note: This interview was lightly edited for clarity.