Eat a Peach: A Memoir
“David Chang’s Eat a Peach memoir is a brutally honest look at a person’s life, an introspection that will leave you exhausted, humbled, and inspired.”
If you are anticipating a book filled with light-hearted anecdotes and maybe a recipe or two, David Chang’s Eat A Peach is not for you.
This is a brutally honest look at a person’s life, an introspection that will leave you exhausted, humbled, and inspired.
With self-deprecating humor and an easy-to-read style, the book gives us an intimate view into the fast-paced world of a professional kitchen. The book reads like a long conversation between mates and friends. Be warned: He is not afraid to swear.
Like all good stories, Chang starts the book at the beginning. A freak accident on a go-kart at the age of seven or eight (he doesn’t recall the exact age) reveals so much about his relationship with his father who he describes as the “archetype of a certain Korean man who remains completely foreign to non-Asian America.
“Yes, they scold and punish us for poor grades and the slightest misbehavior, but it’s not just tough love. It is love that feels distinctly conditional.”
His father was controlling and demanding, but since both his parents were always working, he writes he was fortunate his maternal grandparents practically raised him.
“My grandmother would carry me on her back while she cooked, feeding me little pieces of dried fish snipped with scissors or bites of sweet potato cooked in the fireplace.”
His grandfather lost everything during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and he was essentially brainwashed to think of himself as Japanese. He would take the young Chang on the bus to get sushi from a nearby town.
The one amusing food-related story from his childhood takes place when he was about nine.
The family had gone to Wu Garden, the family’s go-to special-occasion Chinese restaurant, in Vienna, Virginia. Chang’s older siblings were not with them, and after the meal, Chang was dismayed that no one was concerned about his brother and sister.
“How could they be sure the kids had eaten? I started going round the table, clumsily scraping leftover from each person’s plate onto mine, so I could bring them home. The adults had a good laugh. That’s the extent of cute stories I have about eating as a kid.”
A note: Be sure to read the footnotes. They are hilarious, informative, and just plain fun.
Chang is very much the product of his environment. His Korean background had a profound influence on him. According to Chang, Korean immigrants fall into two categories: professionals (doctors, lawyers etc.) or those who run laundromats and convenience stores. But in all cases, the church was a center of life. He was “water boarded with religion.” This is where Chang’s character is revealed as he starts questioning.
“How does Jesus know that I mean it? What if you live in seclusion and have no idea J.C. is an option? You go to hell?”
At this time he was also a golf prodigy, but somehow things fell apart when he neared high school age. During college he worked as a busser at a local restaurant, and he loved being part of the staff. A corporate job was not for him, and he decided to apply to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He wasn’t accepted, and so he put his culinary ambitions on hold for the next few years. After college he decided to attend the local French Culinary Institute and just before graduating from FCI, he worked in the school’s restaurant. Even though this was no “come-to-Jesus” moment for Chang, he was hooked on working in the kitchen.
During the next few years, Chang continued working in kitchens and battling his own personal demons. Family disputes, long hours, and a sick parent all contributed to his first full-blown experience with the depressive phase of bipolar disorder. Therapy wasn’t something he wanted to try until he met Dr. Eliot.
He fell in love with ramen noodles during a stint in Japan. He wanted to make Asian cuisine a part of the main stream dining experience. In 2004, Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar and with it he brought a new way of eating ramen noodles to America. He went on to win six James Beard Awards and has been recognized as GQ’s Man of the Year and a Time 100 honoree. He also hosts The Dave Chang Show podcast and two Netflix original documentary series, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner and Ugly Delicious. His cookbook, Momofuku, is a New York Times bestseller.
Interwoven with his own personal saga is Chang’s story of opening more than one restaurant. His public success came with a price, one of self-doubt and self-flagellation. Chang frankly discusses his suicidal thoughts, his depression, and his family dynamics. Chapter 15 is especially poignant about the loss of a young mentee to suicide. Readers can see the edits Chang made to this chapter, perhaps wishing he could re-edit what happened to his apprentice.
A chapter devoted to the last time Chang met with friend and renowned chef Antony Bourdain is filled with sadness and regret. The two men shared drinks and a mountain-load of appetizers and ended the night with a steak dinner.
In the cab going back home, Chang worried he had wasted his time with his friend.
“I’d wanted to ask so many questions. What was it he said I should do, again? He had so much wisdom. I worried that I’d wasted my precious Tony time.”
Then he got this email from Bourdain: “Be a fool. For love. For yourself. What you think MIGHT possibly make you happy. Even for a little while. Whatever the cost or good sense it might dictate. Good to see you. Tony.”
That was the last time Chang saw Bourdain alive.
During his wife’s pregnancy, Chang started to make amends with friends and family (including his dad). He wanted to let go of old burdens, his rage and resentment. He thought it would never happen.
“Then when Hugo was born, I suddenly realized that in nine months, I had unknowingly accomplished my goal. I felt at peace.”
The book ends with a must-read: 33 Rules for Becoming a Chef. But some of the advice can apply to anyone who wants to succeed.
The list is eclectic, odd, useful, hilarious, heartfelt, and genuine—like David Chang.