David Chang's Netflix series, Ugly Delicious, debuted in February. / Netflix David Chang's Netflix series, Ugly Delicious, debuted in February. / Netflix

Chef David Chang Is a Media Platform Now

It hasn’t even been a month since the food documentary series Ugly Delicious debuted on Netflix, and chef David Chang is making headlines again.

Together with business partner Christopher Chen and former Wired editor-in-chief Scott Dadich, The chef/entrepreneur/television personality will launch a multimedia platform called Majordomo Media, The Hollywood Reporter revealed on Monday. Named after the latest restaurant of the Momofuku Restaurant Group (his first in Los Angeles), Majordomo, which will consist of a podcast, television development slate, and editorial platform, will be a cultural publication focusing on “travel, food, music, sports, exploration.”

Majordomo is not Chang’s first foray into media content creation. In 2011, he founded the pioneering periodical Lucky Peach which, after amassing a cult following in the next six years thanks to its monothematic issues (“Ramen” “All About Eggs”) that combined recipes, interviews, culture writing and a keen eye on art. It folded in 2017.

Yet, in the year 2018, Majordomo Media will join a robust horde of media platforms — each with an extremely well-defined aesthetic and voice — focussing on the way food intersects with all forms of culture and current events. Just to make a few examples, pop-culture-forward Complex Media’s First We Feast combines straight-up recipe content, pop-culture-related features and a Youtube channel with almost 2.9 million subscribers. Its most-viewed show is Hot Ones, in which VIPs are challenged to eat wings doused in progressively hotter sauces.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cherry Bombe, a bi-annual print magazine devoted to women and food, hosts the weekly podcast Radio Cherry Bombe, a conference called Jubilee, and the recent essay series #86this, which  examines sexual harassment issues in the food industry. Even heritage brands are going in a similar direction. Last year, Condé Nast’s BonAppétit launched Healthyish, which covers food through the lens of wellness culture. “Healthyish, more so than BonAppétit.com, is a lifestyle brand. The voice is less about authority and more about exploration,” Healthyish editor Amanda Shapiro told Fashion Week Daily in early 2017.

Media + Food

Combining food with culture and lifestyle is not just a trendy choice, though. “I think that the hybridization we currently see in food media is because it’s so challenging to generate revenue in any medium and/or genre, period,” food-media scholar Anne McBride, PhD, told Skift Table. “So by being multi-faceted, companies and individuals hope to diversify their revenue stream. By blending food with other fields of pop culture, it also expands the audience reach beyond people just interested in recipes, or in restaurants and chefs, or in healthy foods, to potentially just about anyone, on any platform.”

One can’t help but wonder whether it will be more challenging for Chang’s new venture to distinguish itself the way his brainchild Lucky Peach did. Its tone, which sounded innovative in 2011, has now been widely imitated — even in its sometimes grating bro-ey ways — by several independent food publications. Netflix and other streaming channels now feature a large selection of food documentaries, while on the podcast front you can listen to a large number of programs covering the industry from most possible perspectives.

No content has been unveiled, yet still Dadich declared that “We’re designing Majordomo for 2018 and beyond, and it won’t feel like anything else in media. It will be rollicking, occasionally profound, and frequently profane.” Our first reaction was akin to Miranda Priestley’s iconic “Devil Wears Prada” line, “Florals? For Spring? Groundbreaking.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. “The fact that [Chang] continues to want to expand in consumer media is still somewhat innovative for me,” McBride said. “But perhaps it is so because we continue to see him first as a chef, and it might be time to update our definition of what Chang primarily is? An entrepreneur, across platforms, as long as it pertains to food? He certainly transcends food audiences. He has the financial resources, presumably, to build on all of this attention and is clearly interested in food media, so I think it remains an interesting and unique path to examine.”

Angelica Frey is a writer living in Brooklyn by way of Milan. Twitter: @angelica_frey

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