Here’s something that I wasn’t expecting to take away from Eat a Peach by David Chang: a heavy dose of humility and empathy.
For the last few months of 2020 I buried myself in a mountain of documentaries and books all about food culture. My good friend, Priscilla Liang from the Two Horny Goats Podcast, added to my ongoing pile with David Chang’s memoir. I immediately started reading it because my mind was in preproduction mode for a project I picked up. As a non-foodie, I became fixated on playing catch up with everything related to food culture. Before reading, I didn’t have much familiarity with David’s work minus a few facts. He’s an Asian American (like me!), has many successful restaurants, Milk Bar (oh I love their cookies! I later learned this is actually the brainchild of Chef Christina Tosi) and he appears to be following the late Anthony Bourdain in regards to television media. With that said his memoir took me on an existential ride. I had no idea that he has a history of being an asshole.
From the first half of the book, I’d swear that David and I are kindred spirits. He’s very open about growing up, trying to fit in, and trying to establish your identity in a multicultural environment. Then he goes into detail about the mental blows that come with pursuing anything. I could relate to an onslaught of depression and my mental health tanking.
And then when David started sharing his history of being a jerk, I noticed judgment was boiling within me. This amplified when both my foodie and chef friends commented that they didn’t like his food and unanimously said “I heard he’s a huge dick.” I also listened to one of his podcast episodes featuring modern Renaissance man, Eddie Huang, on criticisms of the Momofuku Chili Crunch sauce and it all rolled into a nice package of how to view David Chang. A flawed human being trying desperately to rewrite the narrative of his turbulent past. Upon judging David, I also judged myself for liking the dude based on his curated media.
I pushed to finish his memoir and I’m glad that I did. The rest of the book recounts ways that he’s trying to account for his shortcomings. Somewhere in the pages, I came to the conclusion that I’m sifting through snapshots of a person’s life and they’re not all going to be pretty. When you look through a timeline is possible to judge an individual as absolutely good or bad? David appears to be putting in the effort to become a better human being and the result is a net good. He’s far from a perfect person, but who is a perfect person?
Favorite Quotes from Eat a Peach
On Depression and Being a Workaholic
For me, depression manifest itself as an addiction to work. I work hard to control what I can… My friend the artist David Choe summarized it best for me: work is the last socially acceptable addiction. …Getting things done let me avoid taking care of myself.
When I’m able to take a step back, I realize that I’ve created my own prison. I physically cannot take on any more responsibilities. …The paradox for the workaholic is that rock bottom is the top of whatever profession they’re in.
On Trying to be a Better Person
To feel comfortable while others continue to suffer is the ugliest form of contentment. I’d been so concerned with being right that I hadn’t considered whether we were doing right. In our restaurants, we’d never settled for “good enough so that we won’t get in trouble.” What kind of standard is that? Why would we thank that way about how we treated our own people?
I’m striving to be honest about my past shortcomings, but hindsight is not enough. I’m nowhere near as empathetic or aware as I want to be… There will always be mistakes and miscommunications. The only fatal error would be to stop trying.
On Self Development
Change is guaranteed, but growth isn’t. In my experience, if you want to grow, you’ve got to want it. In fact, you’ve got to want it so bad that you’ll toss out everything that you got you where you are.
As you find success, but new equipment, pay yourself and the staff better, make life easier where you can. But know that the struggle is what gives you and your restaurant life. For everything you make easier, make something else more difficult. Buy yourself some time so you can spend that time pushing yourself in new directions.
You will not be the best at everything you do. Accept that as quickly as you can, so you can adapt… If you want to build something sustainable, you need to learn how to step aside and empower others.
My advice [to chefs] is to be transparent about your ignorance and always honor the source material.
We are supposed to grow as people. We’re meant to ask questions, see things differently, build empathy. That’s the hope, anyway.
The more I learn about this world, the more I am humbled. So much success comes down to factors beyond our control –where we were born, our race, our parents, the help we got along the way, and where we were at any given moment. We have less agency in our lives that our egos would like us to believe. No victory is achieved alone. As you become successful, you will see that the only path of any value is to stop short of the peak and make sure you’re not alone at the summit.
After reading a retrospective of someone’s life I getting a better understanding of myself and how I function. One key takeaway is that I can appreciate a person’s hustle, while frown at their actions. I can also afford to give grace and patience to others because as a human tribe it’s better to encourage one another.