There is a stigma attached to ordering steak well-done. Bill Simmons, founder of sports and pop culture website the Ringer, always told me, “Jalen, if you do that, chefs give you the worst steak in the house.” Having grown up poor, we didn’t always have the best quality food, so we know we can season it, doctor it up or cook it to death, and it will be OK. While now I know better, old habits are tough to shake.
When I had outspoken chef David Chang, the man behind the Momofuku empire and Netflix’s “Ugly Delicious” on my podcast, I had to ask him straight-up: What is your unvarnished take when people order steak well-done?
Turns out, the “podfather” Simmons was right. Chang told me that he’s seen a lot of those stories about the well-done order getting the subpar piece of beef, and attributes it to the elitism that exists in the culinary world. In the past, he’s judged people by their food order, but he’s changing.
“I’m always trying to shed some of my more ignorant ways that I think are enlightened,” he told me. “I basically came up with this theory that anyone that eats a well-done steak is a Trump supporter. Wow, that is stupid. It took all of two minutes to learn Obama eats his steak well-done too.”
I’m growing as well. After being in the league, hitting up the best steakhouses all across the country and getting an Amex Black Card, I started ordering mine medium-well.
I have so much respect for David, and his willingness to evolve and not stereotype people based on their palate or something superficial. That’s big. I am not going to lie that I sometimes do that, even if it’s not malicious, but it’s part of the human condition. Like I might see someone walking around the airport with a ring pillow around their neck, and yes I judge them. By the way, Hall of Famer Paul Pierce does that.
But back to the grub.
Chang started his show “Ugly Delicious” as a response to all of the food influencers who show a superglossy lifestyle when it’s obvious that no one lives that way. And that some of the ugliest food can be delicious. He was embarrassed of some of his hardcore Korean dishes of his childhood, just like I didn’t want to tell people that I ate mayo sandwiches and drank sugar water growing up because sometimes we had to scramble for food.
But I am not embarrassed by that anymore. The older we get, the more we can embrace the good, the bad and the stuff that probably would make me want cringe if I had to shove it down my throat today.
I also love his food. Bar Wayo, his restaurant in the South Street Seaport, is near my ESPN office, and is one of my go-to lunch spots. I’m even happier to support all of his places now, more than ever with his industry reeling from the pandemic.
And if you follow him, you see that Chang dabbles in baby food and has some sage words on getting tots used to eating a variety of foods. Basically you give them whatever the heck you want and create their palate just like you would introduce a second language.
He gives some inside insight into how to ingratiate yourself at your favorite restaurants and be privy to the off-the-menu selections. It involves tipping well and saying thank you a lot, which is already straight out of the Jalen Rose dining-out guide.
We also made a deal. I told him I was going to get him to eat a shrimp egg foo young patty, which he says he hasn’t eaten. And he is going to teach me to cook some Korean food.
But he warned me, it might be a late night. “New York doesn’t get fun until 3 a.m.,” he said.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.