For David Chang, every restaurant he opens feels like life or death. That mentality is a major reason why he’s one of the biggest figures in the restaurant world today. He combines highbrow and lowbrow, mashing cuisines together to create dishes that aren’t fusions — they’re collisions. If you know him from TV, you probably think of him as an affable, goofy guy who loves to eat. But in this conversation and in his new memoir, Eat A Peach, he opens up about his decades-long struggles with anger and depression, his relationship with his father, and the role it’s all played in his success.
This episode contains explicit language, and references to suicide. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or behavior, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
Audio excerpts courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from Eat a Peach, read by the author David Chang.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "New Hot Shtick" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Too Hot To Handle" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "Brand New Day" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Homefront" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Trip With You" by Ken Brahmstedt
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bezek.
DAN PASHMAN: This episode contains explicit language, and references to suicide.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): My first level partner in cooking school quit rather than be my partner because I was so bad. I was passed over two, three times before promotion for the hotline. Nobody wanted to work with. When I opened up Momofuku, nobody thought I was good. I mean, I have like, tangible evidence that I wasn't seen as good.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): You do make a strong case, now that you put it all together like that Dave.
DAN PASHMAN: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Before we get to David Chang, we have a big announcement! Alright, next week we are celebrating The Sporkful’s 10 Year Anniversary with some very special shows. You voted. And we are re-airing your three all time favorite episodes each with a brand new update. It starts Monday with the #1 vote getter, "Searching For The Aleppo Sandwich", about a beloved sandwich shop in Syria. It culminates with an Instagram Live event with some very special guests. I’ll tell you more about all the festivities later in the episode.
DAN PASHMAN: Ok, let’s do this...David Chang is one of the biggest figures in the restaurant world today. He helped usher in a wave of ramen restaurants in the early 2000s when he opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. That was soon followed by more restaurants and a hit cookbook. His food is influenced by Japanese cuisine, as well as the Korean cooking of his childhood, and ingredients and techniques from his fine—dining background. He combines highbrow and lowbrow, mashing cuisines together to create dishes that aren’t fusions. They're really more like collisions. Shrimp and grits with dashi. Ramen that replaces the traditional bonito flakes with bacon. You see the same approach when Dave cooks on TV
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): Home cooking, or I call ugly delicious food, has now become the food that I also want to make in the restaurant. I'm gonna make this braised cobb dish that we've been screwing around with? It's vaguely Portuguese/Korean, but tastes Sichuan style. If you try to respect these cultures you can figure out how to merge them together without bastardizing any of it.
DAN PASHMAN: Dave hires top chefs, but his restaurants tend to be affordable, casual, and pulsing with loud music. In 2013, he was on the cover of Time Magazine, hailed as one of the, quote, “Gods of Food.” Today, he has restaurants around the world, and an entertainment company called Majordomo Media. He created the Netflix shows Ugly Delicious and Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, where he hangs out with celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, and smokes weed and goes out to eat with Seth Rogen.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): My God, your pot is strong. I'm fucking baked now.
CLIP (SETH ROGEN): Good.
CLIP (PERSON): Right this way.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): It's always a good sign when...
CLIP (SETH ROGEN): There's no white people.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): There's no white people.
CLIP (SETH ROGEN): Always. 100 percent.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): You just feel better.
CLIP (SETH ROGEN): Yeah, it's a major step in the right direction.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): Oh wait, we're just going to town.
CLIP (SETH ROGEN): Yes. [laughs]
DAN PASHMAN: On TV Dave is an affable, sometimes goofy guy who loves to eat. But as he reveals in his new memoir, he’s also someone who’s struggled with depression and extreme anger for much of his life. The book is called Eat A Peach. The title is a reference to Momofuku, the name of his restaurant group and the name of the man who invented instant ramen noodles. It means “Lucky Peach.” Dave grew up in a Korean household in Northern Virginia. His mother is a frequent guest on his TV shows and Instagram feed, and the two seem quite close. But in this book, his most personal work to date, he opens up about his relationship with his father. Here he is reading a passage from the audiobook. After this we’ll go straight to my conversation with him.
DAVID CHANG: Dad was 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. The downside to the term tiger parenting entering the mainstream vocabulary is that it gives a cute name to what is actually a painful and demoralizing existence.
DAN PASHMAN: One of the big focal points in the early part of the book in your life is golf and your father sort of pressure to get you into golf. I know you were like a prodigy golfer. You talk about how like you were ambidextrous. Your dad made you just commit to being right because it was better for golf. He would go through golf performances and analyze everything that you did wrong, everything you could have done better. What impact do you think that that had on you?
DAVID CHANG: Well, I think it messed me up really, since we're being honest. When I think of my dad, it wasn't love in the traditional Western sense, it was, "I'm scared", and for my dad, everything was a means to end like golf. You win, you win because you have a lower score than everyone else. And everything was an objective thing and for us...
DAN PASHMAN: Very goal oriented.
DAVID CHANG: Incredibly goal oriented.
DAN PASHMAN: And do you think because he knew he was a person who grew a business running a golf store, you know, starting in an area suburban D.C. that was not the most desirable to be in and ended up doing well. Do you get the impression that he was the kind of person who was ever satisfied in work, in business?
DAVID CHANG: No, that never happened. I mean, I can easily, definitively say no, like there was always more. You can always do more. Right? Push harder, work harder, be better, you know, constant self-improvement. There was no break.
DAN PASHMAN: In elementary and middle school, golf was Dave’s life. His father had him practicing almost every day. He was recruited to play at the elite high school Georgetown Prep, in the D.C. suburbs. But by the time he got there, he had burned out on golf, and didn’t even make the team. For a long time after that he was sort of adrift, without a purpose or a place. He studied religion at Trinity College in Connecticut, where he says he always felt like an other, as one of a small number of Asian American students. Then, not knowing what else to do, he signed up to teach English in Japan, getting his first in-depth exposure to the way people cooked and ate there. He then moved to New York, and decided to enroll in the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. As he writes in his book, he quickly became obsessed.
DAVID CHANG: I found a reserve of sheer stubborn willpower to make up for what I lacked and talent here in front of my cutting board, I could see slow but definitive results. It gave me purpose. I would park myself on the couch at home after my shifts watching recorded PBS cooking shows, while practicing my technique. For hours I'd just sit and tornet potatoes, carrots and turnips. I don't remember doing anything else for that whole period of my life, other than cooking and studying cooking.
DAN PASHMAN: So you were in this long stretch of sort of feeling lost and you find cooking. And I'm curious, what was it about cooking that gave you that feeling of purpose?
DAVID CHANG: Part of what happened with cooking was this is a whole roomful of people like me. That they never fit in and when you put on the whites, everything seemed like an equal playing field scene because that's obviously not true, but that's why I like and do it again. It's not a surprise that current kitchen culture and systems are based on the French brigade. I think if I join the military, I would have felt the same way, you know? I don't know why I'm getting yelled at. I don't know why I'm waking up at 5:00 in the morning. This sucks, but I weirdly like it. It's like I needed something that gave me structure in an unstructured life. I think I might've seen one or two cooks, apartments that were crazy organized, but the rest of the best cooks I know lived like I did. Clothes and trash bags, sleeping on the floor, the bathroom was disgusting.
DAN PASHMAN: Right. You're talking about coming home from an insanely long series of shifts and debating whether it was worth spending an extra five minutes to shower or just to get into bed because you were so exhausted.
DAVID CHANG: But you can barely take care of yourself. But when you step into the kitchen, it's like you would have no idea your private life was in shambles.
DAN PASHMAN: For Dave, the issues in his private life went way beyond a messy bathroom. He had worked his way up to cooking at some of New York’s top restaurants. But it was during this time that his struggles with mental health intensified. He began seeing a therapist, taking medication, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This process helped him understand manic episodes he’d had earlier in his life.
DAVID CHANG: When you're manically high, it's like constant energy. I'm right. I remember Japan running. I was in the best shape of my life and I just was just working out. I was working 10 hours a day and I was just reading so much, huddled next to this small air conditioner in a very small tropical climate town in southern Japan. Like, I didn't sleep. I don't think I slept in like five days, and that's what I was like, hmmm. But it felt good. This is how I go through it and doesn't mean that it's going to be like this for anybody else. But the mere fact that I'm trying to talk about it, I think should help people maybe reflect upon it to themselves. For me, when I'm in that manic high, every idea and every thought is like a metaphorical, juiciest, most ripe, succulent fruit that is just begging to be plucked. Their prime directive is I'm doing what I want to do, and that is do that right. And a lot of times it's like pleasurable things or things that release endorphins or whatever or something that is engaging and it's almost like I can't do anything else. Sometimes when I'm like that thought or if there were too many decisions that just seem like the best idea I've ever had, I have to be...I have to catch myself. I take medication to govern that. And unfortunately, I don't see the manic high too often. What I get is the manic lows and I think the one commonality I have had with talking to other people or helping people go through depression, whenever you're feeling depressed, what you think about and how you feel about things is the most significant feeling in the world. Right? It's like something crazy happens where you're no longer able to put into perspective you versus inanimate objects, large groups, your family. There's no more. Everything gets distorted because that's distorted, the only thing you know to be true is yourself and your feelings. So that just becomes like blown out of proportion.
DAN PASHMAN: It becomes everything.
DAVID CHANG: It becomes everything.
DAN PASHMAN: And so as you write in the book, you you add this period in your 20s, were you contemplating suicide? And you write, "I think about how nothing I've achieved would have been possible if I hadn't been ready to die from the outset, how my success is completely tied to my depression." Can you elaborate on that for me a little bit like explain the connection from your depression to your success?
DAVID CHANG: You feel so embarrassed, or at least I did, trying to tell people like.... you know, we are all guilty of that. When someone's feeling down, you're like, "Just suck it up, man. What's wrong with you?" But no one was a harsher critic to that than me. I was like, "What's wrong with me? I'm such a wimp. Why can I snap out of this? Ugh." And then you just become resigned to it. When you resign yourself to that, your natural logical conclusion is, "Who gives a shit? I'm just gonna end it.”
DAN PASHMAN: And when you don’t care whether you live or die, you start thinking like a person who has nothing to lose.
DAVID CHANG: Am I living the life I want to live? Fuck it I”m just gonna start doing the things I’ve always wanted to do.
DAN PASHMAN: So even though he hadn't yet worked his way up to the point where chefs typically open their restaurants, that’s exactly what he did.
DAN PASHMAN: Coming up, Dave opens his first place, thanks to a loan from a very surprising source. Then later, he builds his restaurant empire, while struggling to contain his explosive temper. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
DAN PASHMAN: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Do you love jollof rice? Do you cook it? Did you grow up with it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I want to hear from you. We’re looking for jollof rice stories, recipes, opinions. If you’ve got ‘em, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And hey I’ve got a bit more info for you about next week’s 10th anniversary festivities. As I said, we’ll be re-running 3 of your all time favorite episodes, each with a brand new update. Monday, it’s "Searching for the Aleppo Sandwich", which was the #1 vote getter. Then Wednesday, "Katie’s Year in Recovery", about one woman’s struggle with an eating disorder. And Friday, "Notes From A Young Black Chef with Kwame Onwuachi". The week culminates next Saturday night, September 26th, with our instagram Live 10th Anniversary Party, and yes, you’re invited. We have two very special guests lined up who I will be revealing next week. So mark your calendar, follow me on Instagram for updates, and make sure you don’t miss next week’s shows.
DAN PASHMAN: Now back to David Chang, whose new memoir is called Eat A Peach. And a quick disclosure, Dave’s publisher bought ads for the book on this podcast but they did not pay us to do this show and they had no editorial input in this episode.
DAN PASHMAN: Anyway, after working his way up in New York restaurants, Dave went to live in Japan for a second time. He had a revelation about the kind of restaurant he wanted to open. He saw people there eating incredibly high-quality meals at places that were not stuffy or expensive. He thought there was an opportunity for that kind of place in New York. But opening a restaurant requires a lot of start up money. His father, who never wanted him to go into the industry in the first place, helped him out. For Dave’s first restaurant, his father raised $100,000 through his business connections, and loaned it to Dave. For Dave’s second place, his father mortgaged his own business to lower the payments on the million dollar loan that Dave had taken out without even telling him.
DAVID CHANG: At the time, I was mad because I wanted total freedom. I've always wanted independence from my dad. And I paid off that loan as quickly as I could once we were profitable because I wanted nothing from him. So the whole idea of operating that business with help from my dad has taken years to understand. And I think that my dad has only figured out to clearly express his love in moments like this. Right? I think I would rather have taken a dad that expressed it in every other way and I think that's the truth. And then Momofuku would have never existed. Fine, but grass is always greener.
DAN PASHMAN: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Dave’s first restaurant, opened in 2004. The food was nominally Japanese. Dave says he didn’t yet feel comfortable messing with the Korean food he grew up with, and he felt Japanese traditions were more open to experimentation. Also, growing up he’d been exposed to Japanese cooking through his maternal grandfather, who basically considered himself Japanese because of Japan’s occupation of Korea. So Dave opened a place that led with ramen, at a time when many people still thought ramen was just the dried square of noodles in the plastic pack at the grocery store. Noodle Bar was pretty much an instant hit. People obsessed over the ramen, but also the pork buns and stir fried rice cakes with caramelized onions, sesame seeds, and gochujang.
DAN PASHMAN: Two years later, Dave opened Momofuku Ssam Bar. He first imagined it as an Asian Chipotle, where customers would order lettuce wraps with all the fillings from a counter. That idea flopped. He quickly redid the menu but he kept the roast pork shoulder that people loved, with a twist. You could only order an entire shoulder, for 6 to 8 people, with lettuce, kimchi, and fresh oysters, all the fixins. You had to order it in advance and you could only get it at 5:30 or 10:30 pm, the slowest times for the restaurant. The dish became a sensation. In 2008, The New York Times gave Ssam Bar 3 stars.
DAN PASHMAN: When he opened his first place, like depression itself, it was really all about him doing what he wanted. Now he had a growing staff at multiple restaurants, all counting on him. That weight, on a person who says he’s prone to self-flagellation, was a bad combination. His memoir is filled with stories of him exploding in anger. At one point he writes, “I've lost control too many times and frightened too many people over the years. I will never be able to explain how much I hate this. The spiral I enter whenever it happens, or how desperately I work to change it.” Here’s Dave again, from his audiobook.
CLIP (DAVID CHANG): I’d lose it all the time. And I don’t just mean yelling and screaming. Old-school chefs yelled. But me? When I say I lost it, I mean exactly that. I lost composure. I lost control. I lost consciousness. What that means, practically speaking, is that some acute event will happen in the kitchen and my mind won’t be able to process it. For instance, say we’re preparing for a critic to come in. I’ll explain the importance of the situation to the staff and what I expect from everyone. Then someone will screw up anyway. They’ll lose track of a dish or make a boneheaded judgment call. They’re human. But in that moment, I can only view the mistake as sabotage. My mind interprets their actions as indifference, and I can only see that indifference as an attack on me and my values. I’ll scream and yell and curse. I want to destroy them, but I know I can’t, so instead, I hurt myself. I’ll punch a wall, kick a cabinet, threaten suicide.
DAN PASHMAN: While kitchen mistakes aren’t the only thing that can set Dave off, he says any issues relating to food tend to hit him in a very sensitive spot.
DAVID CHANG: So much of who I was as a person was tied around food. Food was the one thing besides my father and his objectivity of like working hard, was how my family expressed themselves, as many families do. Right? Food was something that gave me pleasure throughout my life. Food also became the source of how I fixed my life. It gave me values. It gave me purpose. Things that I never thought I care about. Like cutting something properly or writing something good, properly, on a piece of tape. Organizing things that were pretty trivial and meaningless collectively gave me reason to live. And because of what it had done for me, it was like my friend. It was the reason I exist. Whenever I'm in a position where I feel like I'm being attacked and it could be something that is mundane or noxious to someone else, I register as a full blown invasion. And the only way to get out of that feeling is pain and suffering, either mental or physical to myself. This is years and hundreds—I don't know how many hours of therapy to know this. So what I'm trying to do is instead of going a full-blown response, give a response that's a one or two. It doesn't have to go to eleven right away, but in a kitchen that's hard. That's hard.
DAN PASHMAN: In 2018 Dave opened Majordomo, his first restaurant in LA. He said it would be like a “Korean American Cheesecake Factory.” Big portions for celebratory dining. The smoked whole plate short rib in a soy garlic ginger marinade was LA Magazine’s "Dish of the Year". His success was only growing, but he could not keep his anger in check. He tells a story in the book about working with the chefs at Majordomo a few weeks before opening. He makes a comment to one of them about how their area of the kitchen looks a bit disorganized and the chef responds, “Okay, I just didn’t think we were being so serious yet.” Dave lost it on the guy. The idea of any one of his chefs ever being less than totally serious was not something he could handle. That was two years ago.
DAN PASHMAN: Have you ever been worried that current or former employees of yours would speak out in a way that would be bad for you?
DAVID CHANG: I have to own it. And I mean, I've talked to a couple but that's been part of me understanding that I can't ask them for forgiveness. I have to earn that forgiveness. I've been as honest. I talked to a lot of the people about it. And I know there's a couple of people that I hope that one day that they can see the things for what they are. And I can't do anything other than work harder at being better.
DAN PASHMAN: We should note, there have not been any big stories where employees or former employees have spoken out about any kind of mistreatment working under Dave. That may be because he’s already been so public and candid about his anger. But also, as much as he admits he’s a tough person to work with, if one of his chefs earns his respect, he promotes them, gives them opportunities to run his new restaurants. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells has said that Dave’s great skill isn’t as a chef, it’s in putting other chefs in a position to create great food. But he still struggles with his anger.
DAN PASHMAN: When's the last time you really blew up at someone over something?
DAVID CHANG: I think it was last week with my wife. You know, we had a fight over cooking food and almost a lot of times—not a surprise, food related. Right? My wife now knows that these are moments that she needs to look out for. They are there signs and I've had her talk to my psychiatrist, too, like what to look out for. And her response is, "I'm on your side." And it doesn't mean that we can't have the argument but she's like, it hurts her, too, to realize that I think she's not on my team. I think she's out against me and that's a temporary state of psychosis, weirdly. It sucks, man, you know, and that's when I know, it's this...all I want to do is be normal. I say that all the time. I can talk about it after with my wife. I can talk about it with my psychiatrist. And every time I lose it, it feels like I just fell off the wagon. And I've been in a lot of rehab like meetings and it feels exactly like that. And by falling off the wagon, I only make the next fall hurt that much more. And I'm learning to just accept that I will have these tendencies. Because what happened was, at that point I got angry. I asked for an apology. That was wrong. I shouldn't have done that. But then after a couple hours, it took me time to realize maybe my wife was going through something and maybe she just didn't hear what I said clearly. And then I start going through all the possible permutations of what could actually have happened to create a perfect storm of stupidity. And my response was, I had to remind myself, "Does my wife actually hate me? Of course not. What am I doing?" And I just go through this and it's a lot. And that's with my wife.
DAN PASHMAN: After years of therapy and introspection, there’s one realization that Dave’s had that hit him especially hard.
DAVID CHANG: When I've realized I've been a lot like my dad, which is a shameful thing, I'm trying to recognize, if I run away from being my dad I wind up having the same result of people having feeling like I was my dad to them. That's a fail. And I told him...I started asking why. My grandmother on his side, his mother was a hard, mean woman. She was mean and hard. They were literally dirt poor in North Korea. She was mean because that's the only way she knew how to express care and love. That's crazy. Like she...so like, yeah. That's all I just have to understand then. Be like, okay, that my dad is a product of who he was and how he was raised.
DAN PASHMAN: I know your dad passed away a couple months ago. Did you ever have a chance to express any of that to him?
DAVID CHANG: We had some frank conversations later. And I let him know exactly how I felt.
DAN PASHMAN: And how did your dad respond to all that?
DAVID CHANG: I think by the end of his life, he understood and he was really sorry. And I don't know if I was ready to accept all the apologies. You know? I've told this to some people, too, when I've realized how I build that kind of influence, potentially. And this hurts to be this honest, but I'll in some ways I love my father. In some ways, I've forgiven my father. In some ways, I'm more angry at him than ever before.
DAN PASHMAN: And what why more angry than ever before?
DAVID CHANG: I can now empathize with what it's like to be a parent.
DAVID CHANG: I'm like, would I ever say no to my son? If he coughs I’m like, oh my God. If he cries I'm like, oh my God.
DAN PASHMAN: Today, David Chang is a celebrity chef, media mogul, and owner of 14 restaurants around the world. His Fuku chain that sells spicy fried chicken sandwiches alone has 8 locations in New York and Miami and they're planning to expand to other cities using delivery-only kitchens. So the question Dave's now faced with is, where is this all going? Is there a point where it becomes enough, where he feels satisfied?
DAVID CHANG: Contentment was never part of the equation, of sitting back and relaxing. Like never because it was built in. It was comparing yourself and it was always feeling whatever I had or had done was inferior to what was accepted. You know? And I think a lot of that was the mindset like, "You can do more. It has to push." I never learned to be grateful.
DAN PASHMAN: I noted you gave an interview with The New Yorker in 2008 and they quoted you addressing your staff in one of the restaurants. And you said, "You guys have to ask yourself as cooks, how bad do you want this. Life and death is what it means to me."
DAVID CHANG: Yeah.
DAN PASHMAN: And then here in the new book in 2020, you write, "People, whether critics or diners will respond to someone who approaches their work as a life or death proposition. You build a cult by showing everyone that you're willing to go further than all of them to see out your vision. You can't ask everyone else to swallow the Kool-Aid if you're not going to take the first gulp." So it seems like you haven't fully lost your edge, Dave.
DAVID CHANG: I can tell you right now, unequivocally, to pour yourself into something like it's a life and death situation is incredibly dumb, myopic and short sighted.
DAN PASHMAN: But for Dave, at least, not doing that is still very difficult. Here he is, again reading from his memoir.
DAVID CHANG: My friend the artist David Cho summarized it best for me, "Work is the last socially acceptable addiction." When I set out to open Momofuku, I remember being paralyzed by each and every task ahead of me. How do I get a permit? Where can I buy a pasta cooker? Why the fuck doesn’t anybody want to work with me? Every problem was an impossibility. The sensation of gritting my teeth, bearing down, and somehow doing what needed doing gave me a primal high. As with any addiction, the deeper I got, the higher the dosage I needed. I contrast those early impossible feeling days of opening Momofuku with my schedule as I write this. We’ve taken on outside investment, which means we’ve been opening a new restaurant every few months for the past two years, including one this week. There are TV shows to shoot and podcasts to record. I’ve got a new son at home and I’m locked in trying to write this book. 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. There’s no room to do more and I’m afraid of what that means for my addiction. I want so much to quit and walk away, but I don’t know that I have the courage to give it all up. Recovering alcoholics talk about needing to hit rock bottom before they’re able to climb out. The paradox for the workaholic is that rock bottom is the top of whatever profession they’re in.
DAN PASHMAN: First of all, I just thought that was such a powerful insight. And you're right that like most, if you're an alcoholic lying passed out in the gutter, not many people are going to walk past you and be like, I wish I was that guy. And it's hard for anyone to imagine that you wouldn't want the life that you have or any part of the life that you have because it seems like other people's dream. And so you're kind of in this—I can appreciate how it could feel almost like you're trapped. I would suspect that the solution is to learn to feel satisfied with what you've accomplished, but that's very hard for a very driven person.
DAVID CHANG: Working yourself to the bone, even though I still do it, like what's the way out? Alright? And I don't have that answer. I'm asking myself that and that's a step, is recognizing that you have a problem. And I've been recently telling myself more and more that whatever my future is, it's a constant deprogramming of everything I've tried to learn to be. I might have been, metaphorically speaking, one of those mountain climbers that learned how to climb something without any ropes. And I got to the mountaintop. And for a long time, people were like, I want to climb like you. Along the way, some people that were climbing it could do it. Oftentimes, people are like, I'm scared. I can't do it. And as someone that was in that position to lead them I told them that,"You suck. You wimp. You wimp. You can't do that." And at the end of the day, we all want to get to the goal. What I have to learn is we're not robots. Everyone has their own upbringings and experiences. And if people don't want to climb it the way I want to climb it, but they still want to get to the mountaintop, then so be it. That's a good thing.
DAN PASHMAN: So you're looking for different ways to climb and you may be trying to climb different mountains. But I don't think you're ever going to stop trying to climb.
DAVID CHANG: Well, that's actually the goal is to stop climbing and to stop doing.
DAN PASHMAN: I mean, so why not do that now?
DAVID CHANG: Because it's not easy. It's the same things like, "Dan, why don't you reach Nirvana now? You can do it. Do it. Do it. Dan, why don't you put on 50 pounds of muscle? Do it now."
DAN PASHMAN: But those are things I don't have total control over. You could say, "You know what? I'm going to sell off my restaurant chain. I'm not going to write books or do TV shows anymore. I'll go teach at a university enough to have health insurance, make a decent living." You know, like there's probably some way that you could engineer a graceful...
DAVID CHANG: Well, let's go back to—Dan, why don't you learn to run an ultramarathon? You could do that.
DAN PASHMAN: That seems unlikely.
DAVID CHANG: But you could.
DAN PASHMAN: Right.
DAVID CHANG: But it's not that you can't. Alright?
DAN PASHMAN: Right.
DAVID CHANG: There will be a journey and a process to get there.
DAN PASHMAN: And so you're saying that as hard as that sounds to me, is as hard as it sounds to you to stop working so much?
DAVID CHANG: You can't just be like tomorrow I'm going to be something else. You've got to reprogram a lot of this stuff. And I think that's so much of what I think I talk about for myself, is just because I know it doesn't mean I'm doing it. And that's the disconnect. What you're trying to do is, I think ultimately, is be selfless and to be a good person as best you can to the people around you.
DAN PASHMAN: That’s David Chang. His new memoir, out now, is Eat a Peach. Because of COVID, Dave has had to permanently close two of his restaurants. He said that he sees the future as one where he won’t be growing his restaurants so much, but instead will be consolidating and condensing them. Still, he says long term, restaurants aren’t going anywhere. They’ll just have to find creative new ways to do things. As he put it to me, the restaurant industry is very good at making lemonade.
DAN PASHMAN: Remember to get psyched for next week’s 10th anniversary festivities! In the meantime check out last week’s show, about New York’s Queens Night Market. This was supposed to be the Night Market’s biggest year ever but because of coronavirus, it never opened. We talk with vendors to hear their stories, and to reflect on what’s been lost.
CLIP (MAEDA QUERSHI): At the end of the night, whatever food I had leftover I would take it to the vendors that I was close with and we would just exchange food. Tibetan Momos would give me momos. And then the dosa people, who were from India, they would give me their dosa and I would give them the kati roll. Learning from each other, like, "Hey, what did you put in there? This is so good. I think that's what food is. It's a way to share stories and I think that's the one thing that unites us all."
DAN PASHMAN: That episode is called "The World Eats Here: Stories from the Queens Night Market". It’s up now, check it out.