Eat a Peach by David Chang, Gabe Ulla
Published by Clarkson Potter
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Memoir, Non-fiction
My enjoyment of reading about food is almost as great as eating it and I’ve been really fortunate to read some incredibly interesting chefs’ memoirs. Thankfully, David Chang continues that trend with Eat a Peach. Chang is the chef/owner of Momofuku Noodle Bar, a restaurant that opened in NYC in 2004. His concept of small, pared down, inexpensive restaurants with open kitchens and a focus on Asian cuisine led to 15 acclaimed restaurants across the globe, as well as a bestselling cookbook, and a Netflix show. What it didn’t give him was peace-of-mind or a feeling of success.
Chang was born and raised in Virginia by his Korean parents. Devoutly religious, with high expectations for their children, David excelled early at golf, earning a high school scholarship, but left the sport soon after. Nothing kept his attention for long, including college. With no idea what he wanted to do with his life he went to Japan after graduation where he became intrigued by the small noodle bars he saw. From there his path as a chef wound its way through school at the Culinary Institute of America to working at fine dining restaurants like Café Boulud and Craft. Financial help from his father allowed him to open Momofuku.
What made Eat a Peach such interesting reading is that all of the above biographical details occur in the first 50 pages of the book. And…they’re the least interesting information about David Chang. What is more compelling is his admission in the second chapter of his bipolar disorder diagnosis. This is the meat and marrow of the book. It informs every aspect of his life including the fact that even writing Eat a Peach is something he shouldn’t be doing.
I physically cannot take on any more responsibilities. There’s no room to do more, and I’m afraid of what that means for my addiction. I want so much to quit and walk away, but I don’t know that I have the courage to give it all up. Recovering alcoholics talk about needing to hit rock bottom before they are able to climb out. The paradox for the workaholic is that rock bottom is at the top of whatever profession they’re in.
These are raw words of self-awareness and pain. Unlike others in recovery, Chang doesn’t spend the rest of the book detailing how he overcame his diagnosis. He credits an outstanding therapist and a variety of prescribed medications, but he is clear that he continues, to this day, to struggle with his demons. When he sought the input of a life coach his friends, family, peers, and colleagues were interviewed and the results uniformly came back that, even among people who loved him, he was deeply unlikable. Actually, another word was used, but I’ll spare you.
It’s this unflinching honesty that is Chang’s most notable trait. That and a scary work ethic. For as much as this memoir is a history of his successes, he doesn’t shy away from his mistakes and failures. This is a highly successful man who is still deeply conflicted about himself. Which would be scary except that he seems to have surrounded himself with good people in his professional and personal life. All told, as much as I want to experience Chang’s food someday, the candor in Eat a Peach is the more satisfying meal.
If you’re interested in chef’s memoirs I’d also recommend: Yes, Chef! by Marcus Samuelsson and Hubert Keller’s Souvenirs.
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