Recently, David Chang – the wildly popular celebrity chef behind Momofuku – moved into the world of tech. He’s elected to become the “Chief Culinary Officer” for the new food delivery app, Maple, which will launch in New York City at the beginning of next year.
Maple will feature an exclusive menu created by Chang, with seasonal dishes rotating in and out of the menu every day. Chang will also recruit other top NYC chefs to serve on Maple’s Culinary Board of Directors.
As proud New Yorkers and evangelists of New York City tech, we’re supremely excited by this news. Any New Yorker who’s ever stood in line for pork buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar – or just heard a friend sing the praises of the crack pie at Milk Bar – will be rightfully thrilled at the prospect of having Chang’s food delivered right to their living room, or (ahem) to their desk at work.
It’s worth noting that Chang is not the only celebrity to decide that his future lies in the tech world. Lifestyle media giant Martha Stewart has decided to mentor young entrepreneurs with the American Made program, selecting specific craftspeople and making their products available through the web. Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto are major investors in Reddit. This month’s cover of Inc. magazine features actress Jessica Alba; inside the magazine, you’ll find an account of how Alba persuaded VCs to invest in her e-commerce start-up The Honest Company, which is currently worth nearly $1 billion.
Celebrities create new revenue streams all the time, whether that means branching out into media (as with Chang’s food magazine, Lucky Peach) or merchandising (Stewart, who started in media, also offers the Martha Stewart Home Collection through Macy’s). Still, this shift seems more important than the launch of a celebrity perfume or lifestyle newsletter. Celebrities aren’t just branching out into tech; tech is the new celebrity.
Consider: The music industry, the publishing industry and most media industries are in serious trouble. There was only one platinum-selling album in 2014, Taylor Swift’s 1989. Book sales, in both adult fiction and adult non-fiction, are down across the board; only young adult fiction has seen any growth. TV, movies, magazines: Everywhere you look, the platforms we traditionally associate with “celebrity” are in trouble.
Yet people still stand in line for the new iPhone, and talk about it for weeks. People who would be hard-pressed to name the CEOs of NBC Universal or Warner Music (Stephen B. Burke and Steve Cooper, respectively) will instantly recognize the names of Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Meyer or Tim Cook. Tech is undeniably relevant to the masses and still captures mass attention in a way that very few industries can hope to do.
Tech is our new celebrity. And the people behind the scenes, who make that tech – not just David Chang or Jessica Alba, but the developers and executives who do the actual work of building their new technological platforms – are some of the most sought-after and relevant people working today.
Are we moving toward a future where the names of David Chang’s engineers are just as important as Chang’s? Where the CTO of a hot new start-up commands just as much attention as a pop star with a breakthrough single? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Still, tech stars are increasingly becoming stars for the culture in general. And it wouldn’t be at all bad to see them get recognition for the future they’re building every day.
Image credit: CC by Rex Roof