FROM SOUP TO GUTS In 2004, the chef David Chang put himself on the culinary map when he opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, in Manhattan’s East Village. Epicureans flocked there to feast on what was described in the Times as Americanized ramen, “served with a generous helping of impossibly tender braised pork, peas, bamboo shoots, a poached egg — a vast improvement on the traditional hard-boiled egg — and, of course, noodles.”
Since then, Chang has expanded his empire to include multiple eateries, a podcast, two Netflix shows — and now a memoir, “Eat a Peach,” which rolled onto this week’s hardcover nonfiction list at No. 15. His tale of finding his way in the restaurant world while struggling with bipolar disorder is the literary equivalent of slurping hot broth at a communal table. Full of humor and honesty, it provides nourishment and a sense of solidarity.
However, for three years after he signed a book contract, Chang thought he was going to write about business strategy or philosophy. He is clearly a deep thinker and a reader; in a 20-minute phone conversation, he mentioned Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” — he remembers reading it as a teenager at the library in Tysons Corner, Va., where he grew up — and T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which inspired the title “Eat a Peach” (as did the Allman Brothers album of the same name).
Chang says he knew he needed to shift gears after the 2018 death of his friend, fellow chef and author Anthony Bourdain. “That’s when I was more open and accepting that the book was a memoir and that hopefully it would be useful for people,” he explains. “I’ve always tried to be honest, and I think that’s a byproduct of having an open kitchen. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if you just tell the truth, you don’t have to keep track of anything else. It’s just easier.”
As he shaped the story of his life, Chang had three “buckets” in mind: “One was Asian-American identity, two was mental illness and three was the massive change that has happened in the culinary world over 20 years.” He was “writing for the future version of me and maybe my younger self. Almost like a tattoo — a reminder of where you came from, the good and the bad. A reminder to be grateful. To say, don’t be so hard on yourself. If I can get here, as fallible and neurotic as I am, anyone can. For anyone who believes there are no options available to them, I beg to differ. There’s always hope.”