David Chang opens prototype for fast-casual chicken chain

After six months of intensive R&D in the 600-square-foot East Village birthplace of Momofuku, Inc. (163 First Avenue, the original location of its Noodle Bar), David Chang is ready to unveil Fuku, home of the $8 spicy-fried-chicken sandwich and prototype for what the chef hopes will become a fast-food brand. The obvious inspiration is Chick-fil-A, which Chang grew up eating in suburban Virginia, but he’s also a vocal fan of In-N-Out for its unique corporate culture as much as for its burger. Chang describes Fuku as “our attempt to sort of honor the great fried-chicken places and fast-food concepts out there, to do our version of that, and hopefully, to make it better.”

Chang wants to start small and streamlined, with an eye on takeout and, eventually, delivery, and the opening menu will focus on one core sandwich: Chicken thighs that have been marinated in habanero purée, coated in buttermilk, dredged in a spice blend, and deep-fried, then tucked inside a — what else? — Martin’s potato roll with pickles and butter. Of course, this being Momofuku, the chicken is sustainably sourced from a network of small farms, the rolls are steamed (not unlike the bao that earlier models were served on as an occasional Noodle Bar special), and the butter is laced with fermented-chickpea flavor from Chang’s culinary lab. As for his cooking method, Chang isn't revealing any secrets, but he will say this: “We feel very confident we've developed a technique that allows for a very, very, very juicy sandwich that's still crispy.” Other combinations are in various phases of development. (A Chicken Cordon Bleu riff involves Benton’s ham and Swiss cheese.)

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