david chang

  • On Sunday, Chef David Chang became the first celebrity to ever win "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
  • The mastermind behind Momofuku raised $1 million for Southern Smoke, an organization raising money for hospitality workers affected by COVID-19.
  • Chang used his phone-a-friend lifeline for the final question and reached out to ESPN journalist Mina Kimes.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"No celebrity, in the 20 years that this show has been on has ever won the million dollars," Jimmy Kimmel said from his "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" hosting perch across from famed chef David Chang on Sunday night. "No one has ever gone for it — they've all walked away."

The stakes were clear (especially for those of us who've seen "Slumdog Millionaire"). If the Momofuku founder knew the answer to the final question, he would win $1 million for charity; if he didn't, he could choose to not answer and walk away with a guaranteed $500,000. The risk of getting it wrong would be turning that half-million-dollar donation into $32,000. The question? "Although he and his wife never touched a light switch for fear of being shocked, who was the first president to have electricity in the White House?"

As he talked the question through to himself Chang was a bit lost, even conceding of choice B, "I don't even know if Benjamin Harrison was a president." Perplexed, he "phoned a friend," ESPN journalist Mina Kimes, who said she thought it was probably Harrison just as the timer buzzed and her line cut out. That was enough for a gambling man like Chang to bet it all. Fortunately, Kimes was right, and Chang became the 10th "Millionaire" winner in primetime and the first celebrity to ever secure the grand prize.

Chang dedicated his run on the show to restaurant workers in need and gave to an organization devoted to that goal. In 2015, Houston chef Chris Shepherd created Southern Smoke first as a way to help his friend and former sommelier Antonio Gianolo, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Along with an annual barbecue festival, the foundation now fundraises year-round and has donated $763,000 to the MS Society. But a few years ago, mother nature's wrath caused its charter to change a bit.

Chang (left) with host Jimmy Kimmel (right).
John Fleenor/Contributor/Getty Images

After Hurricane Harvey battered Houston in 2017, Shepherd shifted the foundation's mission to aid hospitality industry workers in need by distributing grants to help with rent, medical bills, and more. COVI-19's impact on workers has been even more acute than the disaster that led to the foundation's Emergency Relief Fund. "In one day alone, we have received more applications for emergency funding than we did in the months surrounding Hurricane Harvey," Shepherd told Robb Report earlier this year.

Since the crisis began the foundation has distributed nearly $3.7 million to more than 2,000 people across the country, while also providing free mental health services to Texas-based food and beverage professionals and their kids. With the pandemic still ravaging the industry, the $1 million Chang just won is sorely needed.

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