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Eat a Peach

A Memoir

By David Chang
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Eat a Peach by David Chang
Synopsis

Eat a Peach (2020) is a candid memoir that follows American chef David Chang’s rise to culinary stardom. It’s a raw and honest account of Chang’s struggles with mental illness, his thoughts on culture and identity, and how he enacted his vision of a new way of eating in America.

Key idea 1 of 9

Chang’s early years lacked a culinary through-line, but gave him a distinct perspective.

David Chang had a late start as a chef. It took him a while to stumble upon his passion for cooking. When he recalls his childhood in Virginia, he’s wary of shoehorning memories into a neat narrative that explains his rise in the culinary world. But his relationship with his family and his Korean identity certainly shaped his approach.

Growing up, Chang had a fraught relationship with his Korean immigrant parents. Chang’s father was hard on him, scolding and punishing him frequently. The love his parents showed him felt conditional on his success in life. He wanted badly to please them, but as a mediocre student he never felt like he could. 

The key message here is: Chang’s early years lacked a culinary through-line, but gave him a distinct perspective. 

The one way Chang made his father proud was through golf. He started playing when he was five. At age nine, he won back-to-back Virginia state championships. But even when he was a golf prodigy, his father was hard on him. At one point, his dad told him that he had to stop being ambidextrous – one of Chang’s few natural skills that he was proud of. His father worried it would impede his golf swing. And failure was not an option in their household. 

When Chang was a teenager, he had a growth spurt that would ultimately ruin his swing and his golf game for good. From then on, he felt like nothing but a disappointment to his father.

When it came to food, Chang was embarrassed by the Korean meals his mom cooked and by his family’s Koreanness in general. He did have one formative food experience: the times when his grandfather would take him to eat sushi as a kid. Chang’s grandfather had an affinity for Japanese food for a dark reason: during the Japanese occupation of Korea, he was brainwashed to think of himself as Japanese. 

In college, Chang studied theology – but only because he found the subject easy, having grown up in a very religious Christian family. After graduating, he floated around, first moving to Japan to teach English, and then working in finance – in a job he considered soul-sucking. Chang wondered what else he could do with his life. Intrigued by the restaurant industry after working as a busser and a bartender’s assistant in college, he quit his finance job and signed up for a six-month program at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Finally, he found something he actually enjoyed doing. 

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