By Anthony Bourdain
I thought of Dave Chang as the last chef in Desautel's New York journey because he's the logical extension of a trip that started with Brulard's old school, European fine dining/autocratic crazy-ass style, continued to the next generation of fine dining — where things were more civilized (and more functional) — to Chang's more anarchic, hyper-creative, collaborative environment. Dave is a graduate of Daniel Boulud's restaurants so he knows and respects that world and that style, but he's carved out his own very personal style in conjunction with others. He's a magnet for a lot of other very brilliant people — and exactly that sort of chef — and has created exactly the sort of environment, where Desautel could be expected to find her own groove. Chang really pioneered the kind of fine-food-in-a-casual-environment thing in New York City — along with a fearless mash-up of low-end comfort with high-end techniques and ingredients and influences from all over. If the mission was to get Desautel to New York for a season, only for her to return to New Orleans at the end, we wanted to both "rough her up" a little bit and watch her learn important things. We wanted her to pick up something valuable from each chef and each kitchen she worked in in New York and synthesize her experiences into some kind of a breakthrough — a way to her own personal style — which she would, of course, then take back to New Orleans.
I'd like to mention, by the way, that Desautel's "breakthrough" dishes: the amazing fried chicken and, what will undoubtedly become her signature, "shrimp and grits" are in fact creations of Chang. Chang, too, is from the South, and he and Desautel seemed a good mix.