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Q&A with Cory Momofukin Lane

Throughout the New York City Food & Wine Festival this weekend, Eater welcomes bloggers, journalists and food world stars to our lounge at the Standard Hotel. As the peeps pass through, we're going to chat them up and spit out the dialogue here in this business, From the Eater Lounge. Right now: the Momofuku empire's Cory Lane.

corylane.jpgHow are the restaurants? CL: They are good, we are going through a bit of growth stage right now. Bringing some new people on for the new project, shifting people around. What are your big challenges? Keeping it all organized. Keeping the train on the tracks. It’s just another step right now. It’s very exciting. Keeps getting interesting.

Has people’s perception of Ssam Bar changed after the three star [Bruni review]? There’s a lot of a gray area now. It’s a lot harder to say what makes a two star, what makes a three star. I think that it’s kind of moved into a question of how enjoyable and fun the place is. There’s no script anymore.

You've actually also worked at one of the other non-traditional three stars, Nobu. But going back to Ssam, are we looking at a fundamental shift in what a three star restaurant is? I’ve been talking with my staff about this over the last few years. In the last years, a lot of people have stripped away the unnecessary at really great restaurants. No expensive linens in the bathroom?can we just have a stack of napkins on the table instead? That’s continued to progress over the last years. It sort of organically develops.

It seems that people now want to spend money on the plate. To a certain degree, absolutely. We never thought we would get three stars at Ssam Bar. What’s interesting is that within that there are a lot of gray areas. You know, the high end and the great setting are not gonna go away.

What are you excited about at Ssam and the other places? Gone through a lot of changes actually, new faces. Some new faces rising up. A lot of guys with a lot of different experiences and a lot of different ideas.

Are you thinking of these kinds of things as you build the midtown Momofuku project? I kind of want to let it develop as it goes. What kind of happens with the staff’s flow. And I’ll feed of that. Organic growth. Let the room and the feel dictate what it all feels like. Until those things are solidified. But I’m sure it’ll be a version of our service at Ssam Bar.

How are you taking into account the difference in clientele? That’s something that I am not trying to think about very much. There’s a lot of room for missteps if we overthink that one. If you walk in with the mindset that these people are walking 45 blocks north, I don’t know what the point is.

Will there be coffee? Probably to some degree. We’re kind of undecided. Reservations? Still up in the air. To some degree we’ll probably bastardize some sort of system.

Are there things that you have learned from the mistakes you've made along the way? I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I will make big mistakes. As a company we’ll make big mistakes. That’s one thing that we’ve sort of stressed along the way. There’ve been some massive blunders along the way. Just puts a little hair on your chest. A lot of interesting happenings as we dial it in. It’s to be expected. I don’t have a formula. We as a company don’t have a formula.

How involved is Tien Ho? The big thing here is that [Momofuku Midtown] is his show. He’ll get to showcase his Vietnamese flavors with French technique. I’m excited about him and me working, and [Milk Bar overlord] Christina Tosi as well.

What’s the best thing about working for David Chang? He’s constantly pushing me. There’s no opportunity or reason or desire to step back. A high energy environment where everyone has the RPM going.

And the worst? Probably the same.
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