🐞 🐞 🐞 🐞
EAT A PEACH
September 14, 2020
David Chang is the uber-successful head chef of many restaurants, including Momofuku, Ko, and Milk Bar. You’ve probably seen him on Netflix’s Ugly Delicious and Bravo’s Top Chef. Honestly, he’s everywhere—opening a restaurant or publishing a new cookbook like every other year. He’s a machine.
I was so excited to read his memoir, Eat a Peach. He strikes me as an intense, quiet, and interesting guy, so I was curious to know more of his story. This book isn’t what I expected it to be. In fact, it took me some time to fully process how I feel about it, but here goes.
First, the positive… I sailed through this one in no time. The book is written well and totally bingeable. Who wouldn’t love hearing all the crazy war stories from one of America’s top restauranteurs? Seriously, this guy has rubbed noses with the elite of the elite. Also, for anyone who is a chef or is considering becoming one, you’ll want to check out the “33 Rules for Being a Chef” at the back of the book. It’s one of the strongest sections by far.
So yes, lots to love. The weird thing, though, is how misled I felt when I finished reading. From the start, Chang talks about being an outcast as a child, a misfit. He describes going to therapy and struggling with depression his whole life. He sets his story up for the reader to think of him as an earnest, well-meaning, introspective “nice guy,” just doing the best he can. Even when he’s describing his rage fits and frustration in the kitchen, his all-consuming anger that is ever with him, the emphasis is on his internal struggle with feelings of unworthiness. And I’m sure that’s true—his anger probably IS fueled by his deep insecurities. But these justifications also start feeling like copouts real quick. David Chang doesn’t strike me as an especially happy person, but I think David Chang is still pretty happy with David Chang.
I’m going to assume that Chang is not being intentionally dense. I think he’s probably just a tormented soul, who oscillates between rage and despair, but has enough self-awareness to (sometimes) recognize when he’s hurt another person’s feelings. I think Chang’s main problem is that he feels justified in his rage and so doesn’t feel strongly that he needs to change (which kind of feels, uh, abusive?). I actually loved the chapter on Chang’s time spent with an executive coach who calls him out on exactly this. (And to Chang’s credit, he did choose to include this in his book, when he could have easily not.)
“You have to eat the shit,” he repeated over and over during one of our first sessions. He had the tone and zeal of a boxing trainer. “Shit tastes good!”
“What does that even mean?” I chuckled.
“Don’t laugh,” he said sternly. Marshall told me that my job wasn’t to cook food. It wasn’t about looking at numbers or commanding people, either. My company would live or die based on my capacity to eat shit and like it. “I am going to watch you eat as many bowls of shit as our time will allow,” he said. We had plenty of time.
Eating shit meant listening. Eating shit meant acknowledging my errors and shortcomings. Eating shit meant facing confrontations that made me uncomfortable. Eating shit meant putting my cell phone away when someone was talking to me. Eating shit meant not fleeing. Eating shit meant being grateful. Eating shit meant controlling myself when people fell short of expectations. Eating shit meant putting others before myself.
This last detail was important. With Dr. Eliot, I got away with describing my MO as self-destructive—my managerial tendencies were harmful, but only to me. Now, according to Marshall, I was using that assessment as cover for my poor behavior. In my mind, all the people who had left Momofuku were leaving me. When they failed at their jobs, they were betraying me. Marshall pointed out the ugly truth that this belied. I believed that the people at Momofuku were there to serve me.
On the one hand, Chang is strong enough and determined enough to never lower his expectations. Which good for him, right? But that’s a luxury, too. It’s a privilege to never have to settle in life, to never have to put someone else’s needs before your own—even if you feel depressed about it afterward. And you especially don’t get to have it both ways. If you’re a dick, be a dick…but don’t try to make me think you’re a good guy at the same time. Anyway, it will be really interesting to see what being a parent does to him. I’d love to read his next memoir, ten years from now—or better yet, his son Hugo’s memoir twenty years from now. What a fascinating story that will be.
Thank you to Net Galley and Clarkson Potter for the ARC!