Chef David Chang’s Newest Project? His Own Story

Posted by Sharon on September 1, 2020
If you follow the world of food, chances are you’ve heard of David Chang. The founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, Chang is a chef, TV personality, and writer. His projects have included cofounding and editing Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal that ran on McSweeney’s between 2011 and 2017, and the Momofuku cookbook.

Most recently, Chang created, produced, and starred in the hit Netflix series Ugly Delicious, wherein he and his friends travel and eat their way through questions like “What does it mean to use the word authentic to describe a dish or cuisine?”; “Why is eating meat associated with masculinity?”; and “How do stereotypes about food limit creativity?”
Chang’s newest creative endeavor is his most personal yet. Eat a Peach: A Memoir recounts his childhood, early years breaking into the restaurant business, and rise to culinary superstardom. In the book, Chang brings his signature blunt honesty to his battle with depression, experiences of imposter syndrome, and the complications of fame and success.

Chang spoke with Goodreads about the books that have influenced his cooking and his writing, the best thing he ate recently, and trying to curse less.

Goodreads: You’ve described Eat a Peach as part memoir, part philosophical thesis, and you address your struggles with depression. Why do you feel it’s important to discuss mental health as part of your story?  

David Chang: Frankly, I’m not sure I can separate the success I’ve had in my career from my depression. Over the years, I’ve come to realize the constant battle has fueled a lot of my decisions and pushed me to work constantly to get better.
For the longest time, I never wanted to talk about my struggles, even when in therapy, so talking about it now is still very much a new thing for me. As I’ve become more comfortable opening up about my own mental health, I’ve realized how many people out there are silently fighting their own fights. I can’t stress enough that I don’t have any of the answers, but if my opening up about depression helps normalize it or makes a reader more comfortable asking for help, then I’m genuinely happy.

GR: What would you say you’ve learned about yourself during the process of writing your memoir?

DC: I suppose there are things that I inherently knew about myself but were confirmed for me through the book-writing process. For one, I’m extremely scattershot and I can’t tell a story in a straight line. The trajectory of the book shows exactly that. I jump from one story to the next, but not necessarily in chronological order. I’m more guided by ideas than plot points. Hopefully readers will be willing to follow me.
I also curse too much. I’m really trying to get better at cursing less.

As a whole, when we started writing the book, I was reluctant to revisit my past—not necessarily because it was painful, but because I truly didn’t believe people would find my stories to be important or interesting.

What I learned, though, is that writing about my life is completely different from simply recounting it in my head. I realized I’d only ever looked at my life from one perspective. I was shaping the details of my life to fit what I believed. Once I started reexamining things from other people’s perspectives—both the other people involved and my potential reader—I began to understand things much differently. That notion of trying to see things from all angles became one of the central ideas in the book.

GR: Are there any memoirs that helped inform your approach to writing your story?

DC: I actually haven’t read many memoirs, but William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness left a deep impression on me. There are a few other biographies and a nonfiction book that kept coming up for me during the writing process, though:

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons by Edward J. Renehan Jr.

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand

GR: In your memoir you offer plenty of advice to future chefs. For example, Rule 2 is “don’t go to cooking school,” Rule 3 is “study Shakespeare instead.” Can you tell us what books have shaped your approach as a chef? 

DC: A few books have really shaped my approach as a chef, though not all food-based. To me, a kitchen is as much about the team as it is about the individuals.

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller and Deborah Jones

The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine by Rudolph Chelminski

The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Secret History of the Mongols: The Origins of Chingis Khan by Paul Kahn

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran

GR: What did running Lucky Peach teach you about storytelling? Who were some of your favorite writers to work with? 

DC: Lucky Peach taught me a number of things. First of all, there are so many voices that don’t necessarily have the platform to share their stories. I’m happy that the magazine was able to shine a light on some of those people and their narratives. I learned that there’s not one right perspective about anything, and that at the end of the day, even when covering serious topics, storytelling can still be fun.
I loved that we published short stories by Russell Chatham. I can’t believe Lisa Hanawalt did a column for us. Everything Rachel Khong wrote was amazing. I liked that we were able to help so many chefs communicate their stories and ideas through oral history–style essays. And of course it was an honor to publish Tony Bourdain.

GR: It’s been reported that you’re working on a series of food-related shows with your friend Chrissy Teigen for Hulu. What can you tell us about that?

DC: I’m excited that Majordōmo Media is partnered with Chrissy and Vox Studios on a full slate of food-focused content. We’re kicking things off with a show where the two of us will cook and talk and really try to understand what makes eating together so powerful.

GR: Season 2 of your Netflix series Ugly Delicious came out recently. What’s it been like filming that show, and what has been the most surprising reaction from viewers?

DC: The response to the first season was incredibly positive, but we focused in on any criticisms about the show and used that to improve how we would approach the topics we cover in Season 2. It’s already an incredibly hard show to film because we try to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. There’s no way for us to know where each episode is going to take us when we start filming. Filming this season took us to new places and allowed us to explore things that I’ve really been clueless about. That includes things in my own personal life—the “Kids Menu” episode is basically an hour of me trying to wrap my head around being a dad.
I know there’s still a lot more ground to cover, but I’m hopeful that the show will inspire even more stories to be told. It’s been surprising to see that our viewers are not only watching the new season but are also revisiting Season 1 with new eyes. At its core, Ugly Delicious is really about being comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and working to get better, and it’s exciting to see people really embracing that idea.

GR: Are there any new cookbooks out there that you’re recommending? And what are some classics that you think every kitchen should have?

DC: I honestly don’t really read cookbooks as frequently as I used to, but cookbooks are better than ever now. I honestly think Chrissy Teigen’s cookbooks are amazing, and I’m not just saying that because we’re making a show together. So many people cook from them.
Anyway, here are some other classics and some new titles.
Some classics every kitchen should have include:

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller and Deborah Jones

The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz

The El Bulli cookbooks [1994-1997; 1998-2002; 2003-2004] by Ferran Adrià and Juli Soler

The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

Mastering Simplicity by Christian Delouvrier

New titles:

Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin

Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman

Feast by Anissa Helou

GR: What are you currently reading and recommending to friends?

DC:  I’ve been recommending Range by David Epstein and Grit by Angela Duckworth to everyone I know.

GR: What’s the best thing you’ve eaten lately?

DC: Any home-cooked meal by Mama Chang.

David Chang’s Eat a Peach: A Memoir will be available in the U.S. on September 8. Don’t forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine My review of Eat a Peach will be posted next week, when David Chang’s powerful memoir is released. Read a few months ago, but then publication date postponed, presumably due to COVID. He’s right he curses way too much, but how he describes his trajectory and feels he doesn’t deserve the success he’s achieved, and his remarkable candidness and creativity in sharing his story overrides the rest. This is a stunning read, finally ready for the world to read. The mental health component is told and shown as integral to pushing him to push boundaries. Bravo for so much honesty and heart.

message 2: by Scott (last edited Feb 25, 2021 09:56AM) (new)

Scott Andrews This is the guy that did a Domino's commercial as a series' episode for Netflix? Friend of the redhead that had a cheese wiz on toast recipe in one of her books? I will pass.

Then again, this might be your bag.

This guy is an acquired taste. The combined smug, unlikable essence of the D.C. suburb-meets-grand-poobah-cooking know-it-all-self-promoter. You really have to live in D.C. to understand this type of guy. Or the other D.C people like Deep Dish, B.T., Colbert (look it up).

I honestly prefer not to patronize people halfway up the mountain that preen like spoiled theater kids and throw bons-bons at those that never sought the 15 minutes of sell-out.

And, fake humility is part of the shtick, people. Do not fall for that gonnif maneuver.

message 3: by Shenia Layne (new)

Shenia Layne Ok

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message 5: by Toni (new)

Toni I read the eARC of David's book and was really impressed by his total honesty about himself. I can identify with his struggles with depression personally, and as a student of mental health in general. The food, creativity, and taste boundaries he pushes, speak for themselves. He's the food visionary for our future, in my opinion. As long as he can continue to harness that creative genius he has within him, we should all benefit.

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