One of society’s biggest challenges is work life balance. Can you succeed in life and have an adequate work life balance? As David Choe, an artist friend of David Chang rightly put it, being a workaholic could be the last socially acceptable addiction.
In Eat like a Peach – a memoir, David Chang speaks about his battle with depression, his suicidal thoughts which come and go and says that “the paradox for the workaholic is that rock bottom is the top of whatever profession they’re in.”
The first time I met David Chang was in Vienna a few days before the GELINAZ! event GELINAZ! does Upper Austria. In the span of a few days, I would get to eat next to him, to have dinner conversations, listen to him discuss what his team would cook, the tension surrounding the preparations, the stress of fine-tuning the dish amid ‘huge personalities’ and the final relief when it was all over.
I’d naively told him to relax and have fun but I still recall him saying these events caused him a huge amount of stress because he was being judged and put on the line in situations that could easily go out of control. That might sound counter-intuitive but with the benefit of hindsight it made a lot of sense.
To say David Chang is one of the most important figures in the restaurant world is an understatement. He is not just a chef but also a restauranteur, entrepreneur and a prolific media figure having successfully produced a number of Netflix hits including the most recent Ugly Delicious and is also host of a very popular podcast, The Dave Chang Show.
His memoir, Eat A Peach is out and it’s a joy to read. It is not an easy read because the chef tackles many difficult topics including his battle with mental illness and many other difficult topics. After his Momofuku cookbook, David Chang would have preferred to get away with a book of essays depicting his thoughts on the restaurant world. Not that these wouldn’t have been interesting but what has emerged thanks to his publisher’s insistence to tell his story is an important book that touches upon so many important and topical issues.
David speaks about his childhood, racism, depression, suicidal thoughts, the constant anxiety of running a restaurant, anger, the demise of Lucky Peach and the difficulties of running a successful magazine that never made money as well as how he struggled against all odds to build a restaurant empire.
This is not your normal chef memoir. While food and restaurants is the vector of the story, David speaks about his upbringing, about what it means to be ‘yellow’ or Asian growing up in the US.
David not only speaks and opens up about depression but does so in an educational way showing that mental health issues are all around us and we might not be aware of what is going on in people’s minds. He speaks about the importance of the people surrounding him in particular his wife Grace and Dr Eliot. “The mere routine of talking to him has kept me alive,” he says.
He also touches upon the #MeToo and racism and honestly admits how long it took him to grasp that this was not just about representation but also about people being threatened, undermined, abused and ashamed in the workplace.
It is rare to get such a detailed glimpse through the story of a highly successful person who still has so much to offer in the business world. It is rare to see the dark moments of a person exposed for everyone to see. In this regard this is an important book and one which deserves to be read widely.
There are dark moments, there are moments when you are routing for him, there are moments when you despair and wonder how the story would have panned out if he had believed more in himself or if he was less insecure and more optimistic. But it is in this tension that genius is born.
If there is one thing that I have learnt is to never judge a book by its cover. I thought I knew a lot about David, having followed his work for so many years and also meeting him and spending a few days in close proximity watching him work. But below the surface were all these issues bubbling that I had been oblivious about. This is an important read.