Momofuku Names a New Chef, Paul Carmichael

In 2015, in the back of Star Casino in Sydney, Australia, Paul Carmichael began something extraordinary. As the new chef at Momofuku Seiobo, the first of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants outside the United States, Mr. Carmichael turned what had been a fine-dining venue with European, American and Asian influences into a bastion of thoughtful Caribbean cooking. Waiters wearing tie-dyed shirts served a tasting menu that included cou-cou with caviar, and beef patties stuffed with bone marrow and abalone.

It was an unlikely convergence of time, place and talent: a Barbados-born chef at an American-owned restaurant making world-class Caribbean food in Australia. In a casino. But something about Mr. Carmichael, the team he built and the Momofuku brand conjured magic. Seiobo was named Restaurant of the Year in 2016 by Gourmet Traveller magazine. Mr. Carmichael was also the magazine’s Chef of the Year in 2020, and the restaurant received glowing reviews in local, national and international publications.

Australian food obsessives were dismayed when, in 2021, Momofuku and Mr. Chang decided not to renew a lease with Star Casino. Seiobo closed, and Mr. Carmichael stayed on with Star as an executive sous-chef overseeing operations of the casino’s food venues.

Now he’s headed to New York City, where the Momofuku company has tapped Mr. Carmichael to play a key role in overseeing restaurant operations companywide. He’ll start with a new restaurant in the East Village space that housed Momofuku Ko until last October.

“There are only two reasons to open a new restaurant,” said the company’s chief executive, Marguerite Zabar Mariscal, noting that Momofuku has not opened anything since the pandemic began. “One is having a really great concept. The other, which is much rarer, is a talent like Paul that you can build around.”

Mr. Carmichael will “be instrumental in shaping the next generation of chefs at Momofuku,” Mr. Chang said this week by email. “Having him back in the States means more than just being closer to Paul’s food; we want him to build a legacy through mentorship.”

Before Mr. Carmichael’s time in Australia, he worked for Momofuku as the chef at Má Pêche in Manhattan. In Barbados, he knew as a teenager that he wanted a career in cooking and moved to New York in 1998 to attend the Culinary Institute of America. He went on to work with the chefs Marcus Samuelsson, Wylie Dufresne and eventually Mr. Chang.

Plans for the new restaurant are still loose. It may or may not open this year. It has no name yet. The food will be Caribbean, but exactly what form that will take is still in flux.

“I want to create something extremely fun, something representative of the West Indies and something super-tasty,” Mr. Carmichael said this week by phone from Japan, where he is doing some events ahead of his mid-June move to New York. “The actual concept is going to come based on what we can and can’t do in the space.”

Ms. Mariscal said there had been much discussion about how Momofuku, which turns 20 this year, should move forward.

“Dave is involved in the company at a high level, but not day to day in the restaurants,” she said. Her hope is that Mr. Carmichael will be integral to shaping the next 20 years at Momofuku.

For Mr. Carmichael, the return to New York will be bittersweet. “I love Australia, Australia is my second home,” he said. But despite the accolades Momofuku Seiobo received under his direction, opportunities in Sydney for projects that felt true to his ambitions were scarce and fraught, he said. After Seiobo closed, his job at Star Casino was more administrative than creative. Mr. Carmichael’s food was seen only occasionally at events around Australia; his dinners at the Melbourne Food and Wine festival sold out easily, but he has not run his own kitchen since Seiobo.

Seiobo was the first in a series of closings in the Momofuku empire, which at one point had 13 restaurants but has shuttered all but four of its properties in recent years, including Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C., and Momofuku Nishi and the relocated Ssam Bar in New York City.

Mr. Chang said he’s confident that the new restaurant will be just as distinctive as Seiobo. “If you ask many chefs, I know who they’d like to cook their last meal, they’d say Paul,” he said. “He’s one of the best chefs in the world.”

Check Also

Texas Barbecue Fit for Father’s Day

In Lockhart, a small city just south of Austin, Texas, barbecue is still the feast …