• Show Notes
  • Transcript

Related Content: Listen to the bonus content for this episode here

On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned with Preet, “What’s Eating Us,” Preet answers listener questions about the resignation of Nora Dannehy, a veteran prosecutor and top aide to John Durham in the investigation into the FBI’s Russia probe. He also shares some wisdom from author and past Stay Tuned guest Isabel Wilkerson.

Then, restaurateur and founder of Momofuku, David Chang, joins Preet for a conversation about his new memoir, “Eat A Peach,” in which he explores his childhood influences, struggles with mental health, and his unlikely journey to the top of the global culinary food chain. Plus, a discussion about Covid-19 and its impact on local restaurants. 

To listen to Stay Tuned bonus material, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram. 

Sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a weekly newsletter featuring analysis by Elie Honig, a weekly roundup of politically charged legal news, and historical lookbacks that help inform our current political challenges. 

As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.

Stay Tuned with Preet is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Executive Producer: Tamara Sepper; Senior Editorial Producer: Adam Waller; Senior Audio Producer: David Tatasciore; Audio Producer: Matthew Billy; Editorial Producers: Noa Azulai, Sam Ozer-Staton, David Kurlander

This episode contains discussions of suicide.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line. Additional resources can be found at SpeakingofSuicide.com/resources.

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Q&A:

  • Edmund H. Mahony, “Nora Dannehy, Connecticut prosecutor who was top aide to John Durham’s Trump-Russia investigation, resigns amid concern about pressure from Attorney General William Barr,” Hartford Courant, 9/11/2020
  • Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Penguin Random House, 8/4/2020
  • Isabel Wilkerson on Stay Tuned with Preet, 8/13/2020

THE INTERVIEW: 

BOOKS & EPISODES

COVID-19 & THE FOOD WORLD

  • Matt Egan, “Lehman Brothers: When the financial crisis spun out of control,” CNN Business, 9/14/2020
  • Ryan Sutton, “Restaurant Jobs Growth Sputtered in July as Republicans Still Hold Out on $600 Checks,” Eater, 8/7/2020
  • History of the California Gold Rush of 1849
  • Florence Fabricant, “A First for Michelin Guide: One Chef Wins Six Stars,” The New York Times, 3/4/1998
  • Quote from Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller, 2011

Tracie Mcmillan, “How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie,” National Geographic, 5/4/2016

Preet Bharara:

From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

David Chang:

Like many other people that gotten into cooking, you got into cooking because you couldn’t do anything else. I felt like if I couldn’t do this, well, what else was I going to do? What I learned early on was if I just work harder at this, I’ll get better … And gave me so much meaning as a person.

Preet Bharara:

That’s David Chang. He’s the founder of Momofuku, the noodle bar turned restaurant empire. David is out with a new memoir, Eat a Peach. The book is about his unlikely journey to becoming a Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef. It also chronicles his upbringing and struggles with mental health. I went on Dave’s podcast, The David Chang Show last year and a lot has changed since then.

Preet Bharara:

Today, we talked through his new book, his philosophy of feeding people, and where the food industry goes from here. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

Let’s get to your questions. This question comes in an email from Walt who writes, “You recently described a long-standing policy of the DOJ not bringing actions in ways that suggest an undue attempt to influence voters. This Nora Dannehy story suggests a race to do the opposite. Are you giving odds that the district of Connecticut will observe this standard of propriety?” Of course, the story that Walt is referring to is what a lot of people have been talking about, and Anne Milgram and I talked about at length from the CAFE Insider podcast.

Preet Bharara:

Essentially, it’s the story of how the top deputy of the US attorney’s office in Connecticut, Nora Dannehy, has stepped down from the investigation of the origins of the Russia probe. You’ll recall that John Durham, who is the US attorney in Connecticut was assigned that task sometime ago, and the President of the United States seems very anxious for there to be a result. Anxious in particular for there to be a negative report about some of the people involved in that investigation.

Preet Bharara:

And obviously, he also wants there to be indictments, charges. And he clearly wants those things to be done before the election so they can have an impact on the election. All this was reported in the Hartford Courant. I want to caution folks though, there is no confirmation from Nora Dannehy that the reason she resigned was because she felt political pressure to do something inappropriate either substantively or with respect to the timing of the investigation she’s doing with John Durham.

Preet Bharara:

But I will say the timing of it, the fact that she came back into government specifically to work on that case, and because of the track record of both the president and the reporting of Bill Barr suggesting that he wants something to be done before the election, I think, lends credibility to the reporting that that’s why she resigned at least in part. There’s also reporting in that article that Nora Dannehy has told colleagues that she has been uncomfortable increasingly over the past weeks about pressure to do something she found to be inappropriate.

Preet Bharara:

The next point I’ll make is people talk a lot about the so-called 60-day or 90-day rule, which different people interpret differently. I want to make clear that there is no codified, specific statute or regulation that says you cannot do X or Y in advance of an election either within 60 days or 90 days. Rather, what all good prosecutors and good faith people in the Justice Department have always understood, including when I was there before and after, is that you want to take very good care prudentially near in time to an election, whether it’s 60 days or 90 days or some other period of time, not to do something that will unduly affect the election.

Preet Bharara:

That’s not to say that there are occasions when a law enforcement action needs to be taken that might hypothetically or arguably have some impact on election. Well, you strive very, very hard not to do that unless there’s a very, very good reason otherwise. Now, I want to point out a distinction. There’s two categories of thing here. One is you’re otherwise undertaking a good faith investigation and you have a good faith need to bring a charge or to take an investigative step and you’re worried that doing that good faith thing might impact an election. Maybe you think about holding off, or maybe you think about not doing that thing because the consequence of the action might influence the election.

Preet Bharara:

It is quite a different thing and much more nefarious and much more concerning if you’re trying to take an action for the purpose of interfering with an election or having an impact or an influence on the election. And based on the reporting and the suggestive statements of the president and Bill Barr and others, it seems like this falls into that second category, that there seems to be a rush and pressure on Nora Dannehy at one point and continuing on John Durham to take some action before the election for what purpose? For the purpose of affecting the election.

Preet Bharara:

We don’t bring prosecutions in a vacuum. Sometimes the consequences of your actions are unknown and that’s why you decide to go forward and not go forward based on this prudential 60-day or 90-day rule. Here, we know exactly what’s going to happen to the extent there’s anything negative at all. With respect to perceive adversaries of Trump before the election, he’s going to weaponize any Durham report or any Durham indictment for his own political purposes. Everyone knows that and that everyone includes Bill Barr.

Preet Bharara:

So that’s why, in my mind at least, the undue pressure to do something before the election as reporting suggests is particularly nefarious and particularly undermining of the values of the Justice Department. So as for your last question, it’s hard to answer, which was, are you giving us the District of Connecticut will observe this standard of propriety? It depends on how John Durham views that standard of propriety. It’s my understanding that Nora Dannehy and John Durham were quite close professionally and personally. And it has to have been a blow to the investigation for her to leave especially she left for these reasons that we’ve been discussing.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know John Durham personally. Lots of people say he has a reputation for integrity and he’s handled difficult investigations during different administrations, people from both parties. And I think there’s a lot of pressure on him and to the extent he respects Nora Dannehy and respects her opinion and respects her decision. Maybe that compels him to do the right thing in this case and not be rushed to do something inappropriate before the election. But it’s hard to say. Everything seems upside down these days.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes in an email from Molly who writes, “I enjoyed your latest episode on The Merit Trap. That’s the episode with Michael Sandel. It did a great job of explaining the resentment of American meritocratic society created that led to a president like Donald Trump. However, it still left me wondering why those who feel resentment often vote against their interests. Many politicians who claimed to be against elites or experts often also enact policies that hurt their base such as gutting social security or eliminating preexisting condition protections in healthcare. Thoughts?”

Preet Bharara:

Well, Molly, that’s an excellent question and one that I think a lot of people think about and a lot of political analysts wonder about and argue about because I think it is a key to understanding how to expand your party’s base, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. But I think the best answer to your question or at least one of the best answers to your question came in an earlier podcast episode when I interviewed Isabel Wilkerson on her book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Preet Bharara:

She and I had a conversation based on some of the things she writes in her book about why this might be. Why it is that some groups simply want to be superior to other groups or feel superior to other groups even if they’re not getting the benefits politically that you would think would come to them, and why they make certain kinds of political decisions. And so, she actually provides a direct answer to your question and I wonder what you think of it.

Preet Bharara:

Isabel writes on page 327 of her book, Caste, the following, “Caste gives insights too into the Democrats’ wistful yearning for white working-class voters that they believe should respond in higher numbers to their kitchen table appeals.” This is your question, Molly. “Why some people on the left kept asking why, oh, why were these people voting against their own interests? The questioners on the left were unseeing and yet so certain. What they had not considered was that the people voting this way were, in fact, voting their interests. Maintaining the caste system as it had always been was in their interest. And some were willing to accept short-term discomfort, forgo health insurance, risk contamination of the water and air, and even die to protect their long-term interest in the hierarchy as they had known it.”

Preet Bharara:

There’s obviously a lot more there in the lengthy book by Isabel Wilkerson, but in the nutshell, that’s her response. I wonder what you and others think.

Preet Bharara:

It’s time for a short break. Stay Tuned.

Preet Bharara:

My guest this week is Dave Chang. You might know him as the founder of the Momofuku Noodle Bar, as the host of the Netflix show Ugly Delicious or as the voice behind his podcast, The Dave Chang Show. Dave’s new memoir, Eat a Peach, tells the story of how he went from a junior golf prodigy to one of the biggest chefs in the world and the struggles he overcame along the way. At a time when the future of the restaurant industry is highly uncertain, I’m excited to have my friend, Dave, on the show today.

Preet Bharara:

Dave Chang, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.

David Chang:

I’m very excited and honored to be here with you, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

I’m excited. We have a lot to talk about. There are a lot of things that you have written about in the new book. There are a lot of things going on in the world. I want to say at the outset that you and I are friends. We’ve dined together, hung out together and I was on your podcast once.

David Chang:

You were. It was a good one.

Preet Bharara:

It was a great conversation. Can I ask you a couple of questions about this new great book that just came out that everyone should read?

David Chang:

Certainly.

Preet Bharara:

It’s called Eat a Peach: A Memoir. And so, my first question is why is there no table of contents?

David Chang:

I didn’t even think about that. I mean-

Preet Bharara:

Not only is there no table of contents, Dave, there’s no index. It makes it very … So, all your chef friends who you name dropped throughout the book, how the hell are they going to do the Washington read and figure out if they’re mentioned and how often they’re mentioned. There’s no index, no table of contents. What’s up with that?

David Chang:

I think that’s because I was a poor student and you were an excellent one.

Preet Bharara:

It’s fine. But as I read every page of it, and it’s great, and very revealing and insightful for a lot of different reasons, but I just thought, “Is there a reason for that?” All right, I’ll get to more … Let’s have some difficult questions now. As we discussed when you had me on your podcast, I’m a lawyer and the book was extensively about justice. It’s called doing justice. Your book is a memoir written by someone who’s in the restaurant business.

Preet Bharara:

But just like my book wasn’t just for lawyers and prosecutors, your book is not for people who have a vested interest in that industry. Who’s your book for?

David Chang:

Well, without any preference of order, I think it was obviously the culinary industry. I’ve had an inside look as to how high-end dining and independent restaurants have operated for the past 20 years as cooking has become more and more popular and part of the cultural mainstream. Two, I think, because I addressed it so much in the book, is sort of the Asian-American identity in sort of my growing up in that. And three, I think it would be discussing mental health, something that I’ve been open about for some time.

David Chang:

I think another one would really just be sort of what I thought the book was originally going to be when I signed on to do it, a manual of the trials and tribulations, the do’s and don’ts of being an entrepreneur.

Preet Bharara:

No, I think it’s all of those things. Can we talk about the cover? This is an audio program but I love the cover and you spend some time talking about the cover. Your book is called Eat a Peach as we’ve said, and it’s a portrait of a big peach being pushed up a mountain by a little black silhouetted man … Is that an Asian man?

David Chang:

It’s Oddjob from James Bond.

Preet Bharara:

It is?

David Chang:

Yeah. He was just like … It’s in the book. We go into some depth explaining it but it’s not necessarily the first choice I wanted to do because there’s a lot of reference to Sisyphus and his eternal struggle of pushing a boulder up the hill and how we sort of compared that to the culinary industry and some of the absurd parts of my life. But more specifically, I wanted to just do a cover of Idris Elba, the actor.

David Chang:

But yes, we did a bunch of covers and we tested them all out-

Preet Bharara:

… you said Idris Elba, and you’re like, “Let’s put him on the book cover.”

David Chang:

Because all of the covers of my face, I didn’t want, so we got a portrait done from my friend, an artist. And we tested it all out and we went to parts of America that were not on the coasts. So middle America and there was overwhelming data that said people hated my face, my eyes-

Preet Bharara:

Come on.

David Chang:

… and my last name. I’m not joking you. We got this back and-

Preet Bharara:

See, your first mistake was trying to get data about your face. I have made it a point not to commission such studies so I don’t get disappointed. But you said something about, so people appreciate it’s a huge peach being pushed by a small man up a mountain ala Sisyphus and you described the myth of Sisyphus as an inspirational tale. That’s not how most people think of it.

David Chang:

Right. I think most people would think of Sisyphus as a hell on earth. That would be the worst possible existence, and I found some weird place in my life that I hold Sisyphus as an inspirational story because I think it’s the only true choice you have. Obviously, a lot of this is derived by Camus. Even though I’m a chef, I weirdly have read a bunch of things that I’m sure are not academically perfect in its understanding.

David Chang:

But how I’ve taken it is something that is a little bit different than what might be out there. I sort of disagree with Camus as well on a couple of instances, but I take it as my ability to choose not to be who my default setting is as a person. I think you sort of have to reject yourself in order to be the best version of yourself. Nobody really wants to do the work, which is why I think it’s so closely associated with cooking. You spend so much time, so much sacrifice to put food on a plate only to see it flushed down a toilet 8 to 10 hours later. It’s the dumbest job in the world.

David Chang:

It really is. It’s incredibly stupid, yet I cannot explain or articulate in any meaningful way to convey how much people love it, why I love it. And I think it’s partly because it is so patently stupid, yet you’d still do it. You do it with gusto. You pour yourself into it. And to me, that’s rejecting what you’re supposed to do. And I see that in cooks. When you start to cook and you take it seriously, so many of us that are in this profession, especially me, I never organize. I never clean up. I was a terrible student. I didn’t do any of these things.

David Chang:

And then one day, you can see these newer cooks sort of really struggle. And then one day, they get it. It just clicks. They’re like, “I’m going to love cleaning. I’m going to love organizing. I’m going to love sharpening my knives.” And that’s the moment when people understand that I just have to not be me in the kitchen. And things get better, things change and that’s how I likened it to sort of my life and I could complain. I can lament all the whatever bad things that might have happened to me.

David Chang:

And I do. Trust me, I do. But at some point, I’m just like, “I’m just going to do. I’m going to put in the work and I want to push it up the hill.” To me, that’s sort of how I look at it. In Camus’ book, which again is a terribly written book. The first five pages, the last five pages are the only things that seems to be sensible but he says, you have to imagine Sisyphus happy walking down the hill. I think that’s crap. I think that he’s unhappy.

David Chang:

I think happiness is the effort. Happiness is-

Preet Bharara:

By going up the hill.

David Chang:

Yeah, going down the hill, he’s probably like, “God damn it. I got to do this all over again?” His ability to reject the gods because he was destined to do this forever, that is human nature in my opinion to not do what you’re supposed to do and to do something that ultimately selfless and better for humanity. That’s the goal.

Preet Bharara:

Something you said a minute ago struck me because I’d never sort of thought about it this way until I read it in your book, which is that if you cook, you’re a chef and you spend your life making food for people. The fruit of your labor is literally feces. That’s a dramatic way of putting it. And I don’t know that I’ve thought of it that way before, I’m going to try not to think of it that way when I go to a restaurant from time to time in the future.

Preet Bharara:

So you’re talking about Camus. You have a meditation on cubism in the book. There are no recipes but lots of thoughtful things you say. Is it necessary or important for someone in your profession in order to become a great chef to be intellectual?

David Chang:

Well, that’s a question I wrestle with quite a bit. I think in the past, it was not a prerequisite to know anything other than cooking particularly how we’ve adopted western cultures, adopted so much of its ideology and traditions from the French brigade system, the culinary system created by Escoffier many years ago and it’s really rigid and based on the military, no joke. That’s all you needed to know. Just cook, know your techniques and that’s it.

David Chang:

It never required artistry or the idea that was a craft until recently. I think one of the advantages I had was I had an education that wasn’t just based on the culinary arts and I think that’s given me an advantage. I think a lot of the chefs you see that are of note right now or the past 10, 15 years, they’re not just of a culinary school background. They have a variety of backgrounds and I think that’s made the culinary arts more interesting.

Preet Bharara:

I think you have a section of your book at the end when you give 33 tips on how to become a chef, and I think you say, “Study Shakespeare.”

David Chang:

Yeah, absolutely. Anything that’s liberal arts. I mean, once you realized that in order to do something new, more than likely you have to sort of connect the dots in the past. I’m always surprised that cooks and chefs refused to actually read anything else outside of cookbooks or sports or music. There’s so much more out there and anything, history, art history.

David Chang:

If you’re going to become a cook, I’m going to just reiterate this as I do to all young cooks, go to a great state school, work in kitchens as you’re going to school and major in something that’s like real: Engineering, mathematics, sciences, whatever or liberal arts. Anything but just cooking because it’s two-fold. One is it gives you different ideas and different patterns in the world that you’re going to be able to apply to cooking, and the failure rate for chefs or aspiring cooks, I think, is 95%, really.

David Chang:

You don’t want to spend all your life with a culinary degree or without a culinary degree if you’re a dropout as many cooks are with nothing else other than that. You want to have something that you can fall back on and I think having a college degree is a good thing in that regard. Preet, if you were still representing the government, I think you should go after culinary schools because I think it’s a sham.

Preet Bharara:

Is there a Trump Culinary School?

David Chang:

Well, you know what? It could be next. There were Trump steaks, so maybe that could be next.

Preet Bharara:

Were. So, obviously, we are living in the time of pandemic. It delayed the publication of your book. You didn’t really have the chance to talk about it in the main part of your book, but there is an afterword. Let’s maybe begin with your afterword and you have some observations based on how devastating the pandemic has been on the restaurant business.

Preet Bharara:

I want to sort of get a sense from you of the scale of the damage to the restaurant business in the early months of the pandemic and what the state of affairs is now and what we can expect for the future.

David Chang:

I mean, if you’re listening to this and you never heard of me before, it’s not going to be a surprise or should be a surprise that I’m incredibly a doom-and-gloom person. I’m a pessimist that hopes to be wrong and at the very beginning of this, I would say probably around mid-February, I have a lot of friends in Asia that are in the restaurant business and I saw how it decimated them.

David Chang:

It was pretty clear to me that once this got to America, this was going to do exactly what it did to restaurants in Hong Kong and Wuhan and Seoul, Korea. And yet, simultaneously, I was like, “Well, I feel pretty confident our government is going to do a better job.” Why I believe that, I don’t know.

Preet Bharara:

Because that’s historically been the way that America has handled things, this being a notable recent exception.

David Chang:

Yeah. And I thought worst-case scenario would do 90%. It would make 90% of independent restaurants closed. That was my back-of-the-envelope math, and a lot of people were like, “You’re just out of your mind, Dave. You’re always a naysayer.” And I don’t want to be right about this. This is a terrible scenario. I think it will be right. I think when it’s all said and done, there was a resistance to the idea that we thought that, even I thought August-September would be the time we’d be reopening at the worst-case scenario.

David Chang:

No one in my industry thought it would last a year plus and I don’t think any restaurant outside of publicly … Restaurants that have access to public markets can sort of survive that. This is a problem, and when they said 25% occupancy and 50% occupancy, those are just random-ass numbers. If you are in the restaurant industry and you follow closely the health code and protocols, just let me tell you guys, the Department of Health for the most part still hasn’t updated a national or even comprehensive state level about all the do’s and don’ts of safety protocol for how to handle food in the post-COVID world.

David Chang:

And that should tell you something. We’re just so behind across the board. No one had any idea when it began and here’s the problem, Preet, no one on the government level has really implemented anything since the beginning of COVID crisis other than reopening restaurants at a lower capacity. What they haven’t done is … That’s okay, Preet. If you want to force restaurants to reopen or just do takeaway and dining, that’s totally fine but we should do something that a lot of our neighbors particularly let’s say, Sidney, in Europe and Canada have done. You’re going to continue to subsidize restaurants as they are closed or operate at limited capacity.

David Chang:

We have done none of that, and PPP is just a Band-Aid and it doesn’t cover a lot of the other things that a restaurant does. And because of that lack of intervention, I mean, I hate to say it but I think collectively, restaurants are going to be like Lehman Brothers of 2008.

Preet Bharara:

Why does that matter so much? Because of its effect on the economy, because of the effect on individual people that the government seems to be leaving behind?

David Chang:

All of that, Preet, and I want people to understand that restaurants, it’s too small to fail and that’s what I’ve been saying because you’re going to have the same repercussions as it might hit investment banks and Wall Street. All of these is connected to the real estate. All of these real estate is levered, sometimes highly levered.

David Chang:

So, it just is going to go unfold in a different way but people should understand that there’s small restaurants or the restaurant they frequent that are not changed or have corporate bodies, but their banks, in two ways: One, they are banks because I think 95% of all cash flow generated by restaurants goes out the door immediately to other parts in the industry, accounting, legal services, bakeries, florist, butchers, you name it. But we don’t charge interest.

David Chang:

And secondly, a lot of these restaurants are cultural banks. Whether they serve good food or not, these are institutions that are so central to your community and you need to understand that. And we’re going to lose them unless we do something about it. And I’m terribly afraid of what’s going to happen and I have spoken to actually a fair amount of elected officials in Congress, and their hands are tied. They don’t know what to do. And some of the people that I really admire, they are asking the hard questions that I think we need to be asked because they don’t want to pump money into an industry that was this fragile to begin with, that was barely working before February 2020 in terms of the economics and rising fixed costs.

David Chang:

They are like, “Okay, we will do this if we can fix the foundation correctly,” and that deals with all the labor issues and a lot of the systemic problems in my business that can only truly be fixed with legislations. We’re sort of … I mean, I’m trying not to curse here, but we’re totally screwed because on the right side, you have Republicans, they’re like, “Screw it. Restaurant industry is doing fine. Look at how fast food is doing. Their revenues are up, and blah-blah-blah.”

David Chang:

On the left, you have people that are like, “Well, we’re not going to fix something that’s already like problematic. It needs to be better.” So I don’t know what to do here.

Preet Bharara:

In this afterword to your book, I want to quote from some of it. You present two scenarios 15 years out. So you present the 20-35 worst-case scenario, and then the 20-35 best-case scenario. I want to read some of these and have you amplify or expand. With respect to the worst-case scenario, you write, “In the wake of COVID-19 and other subsequent pandemics, oh boy, the vast majority of independent restaurants have been allowed to die. Fast food won. People who tell stories about the restaurant dining era are dismissed like music fans who never got over Elvis.”

Preet Bharara:

You also say, “The remaining hourly wage restaurants employees, especially undocumented workers have seen no improvement to their salaries, benefits, or job stability.” And you say, “We’ve lost a great many family-run restaurants.” That’s the worst-case scenario and I want to have you talk about that in a second after I calm people down and have them hear what you say about the best-case scenario, although I worry that you begin the best-case scenario with the premise that aliens have invaded. The point of which is to say there’s some momentous global event that has finally awakened us to our common humanity and we become unified again.

Preet Bharara:

And you say in this best-case scenario, “Innovative farming and advances in food production in combination with widespread changes to people’s eating habits have helped curb climate change. In the wake of COVID-19, the government recognized the essential work of the food industry and helped independent restaurants recover from the financial toll of the pandemic. More people are cooking and growing food at home. Cooks and chefs help lead the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, both by feeding those in need and by leveraging their expertise to help the world safely adapt to a new landscape.”

Preet Bharara:

Which of these two scenarios is going to come to pass, Dave?

David Chang:

I hope the optimistic version. We’ve been pushing for that, I think-

Preet Bharara:

What needs to happen for the optimistic version to happen?

David Chang:

We need to overhaul the entire food system in America, again starting with the labor force-

Preet Bharara:

What does that mean? You and I have talked about this before, the difficulty of egalitarian access to food, the high cost of the restaurant industry-

David Chang:

Yeah, all of these.

Preet Bharara:

… and bringing investment in because it’s a low-margin industry. Most restaurants, I don’t know what the statistic is, you must know, even before the pandemic they fail.

David Chang:

99% of restaurants closed in five years. 90% of those restaurants that make it. Before they even make it, 90% closed within the first year and it’s 99% never reached five years. So that’s why even before the pandemic began, very rarely I ever meet someone that raised money or got a loan through the bank. I mean, everyone understood the economic model of restaurants was very weak.

Preet Bharara:

So, how do you change that? That’s the nature of the business, right? You buy a piece of meat at whatever cost, and then you have to combine it with labor, and then you serve it on a plate. You can’t charge five times what the meat costs. The way I understand it that a lot of restaurants make money is by offsetting all those costs with the ability to markup alcohol.

David Chang:

Yeah. Well, I think, first and foremost, there’s a lot of different ways you could slice this giant problem up. Whenever I think about this, it goes distilled to one factor and food needs to be more expensive. I can’t force anyone to figure out what to do with that profit. But I hope that using, say, a Patagonia as a model or something like that, it’s being benevolent with your profit. And if the government won’t take care of healthcare, if the government won’t provide benefits to your employees, then it’s going to obviously have to come from private companies and that’s what needs to happen.

David Chang:

And all of these change needs to happen in the restaurant industry but we can’t afford to do it because at the end of the day, people do want to pay more money for food. They just don’t. And even people that are like, “organic this and organic that,” they still don’t even buy organic ketchup. I can’t remember the data that I found but it was surprising that people that only buy organic won’t buy the 75-cent more organic ketchup. It’s just something in our brains that are hardwired to prevent us from paying more for food. It’s something that we believe has to be cheap and that has to change.

Preet Bharara:

Not only that, you pointed in the book, that people have particular expectations about how much they’re going to pay for a certain kind of food. So, in your experience, people will pay $20 or more depending on the nature of the restaurant for a bowl of pasta, but they’re not going to pay more than $8 or $10 for a bowl of noodles even if it takes a lot more work. Why is that?

David Chang:

Straight up racism. It’s just straight racism. There’s no other way around it. I mean, it’s something I’ve been fighting against for a long time and that reckoning amongst many other things that are going through this sort of moment of awareness and getting changed is the racist element in food. If you spend the same amount of time or more time making a plate of noodles that happened to be Asian and someone that runs an Italian restaurant opens a can of tomatoes with a box of spaghetti and put some Parmesan and basil on it, you could charge that Pomodoro for, depending on the restaurant, $28 to $34.

David Chang:

Can you imagine an Asian noodle shop or Asian lo mein or something like that, Chinese restaurants serving a bowl of noodles for $34? And then other people will say, “Oh, no. It’s the décor.” I was like, “Well, that’s a racist too. You can’t say that because one restaurant has better décor and the other one doesn’t.” That is a whole larger issue in and of itself. I think people are having this conversation now, so that’s a step in the positive direction.

David Chang:

But as a whole, I think the food world and everything that’s in it from labor to the things that are on your plate, to the restaurants you go to, to everything that you eat, people need to know just how … It’s a Trojan horse for all the positives and ills of our world. It really does encapture so many things.

Preet Bharara:

Something is very confusing to me, because this statistic that you mentioned, 90% plus, 95% or 99% of restaurants closing within a short period of time, that’s not a new fact. That’s been a business model for years and years. And I want to tell you a quick story. I think I mentioned this to you. I don’t think I mentioned it publicly, at least not on the podcast. Back in 1977, a long time ago in the great state of New Jersey, the garden state where I grew up, there was opened in Shrewsbury, New Jersey an Indian restaurant called Himalaya. It was only the second Indian restaurant in the entire state. Try to think about that now, how many restaurants that served Indian cuisine now?

Preet Bharara:

And the reason I mentioned that restaurant is it was owned by, started by my dad, the pediatrician, his best friend a pediatric cardiologist, and my uncle who I think was like 28 years old, had just immigrated from India, having spent some time studying hotel management and restaurant management in Austria. And out of the blue in 1977, I’m nine years old, they take their savings and they put it into an Indian restaurant where nobody had really had Indian food before. And they struggled and tried to make it about eight or nine years and only lost money on that restaurant.

Preet Bharara:

And so, the question is and this goes to my family as well, if the stats are so depressing, what is it about a restaurant or making food and serving people so interesting to people that they think that they’re the ones who are going to defy the odds and make it work? What is it about that industry?

David Chang:

It’s an industry of addicts. That’s really it. It’s so similar to talking to someone that has a heroin addiction, I swear to God. Because you’re constantly chasing this illusion of a high that you can make it work, that you can finally do something that no one else can, that you have a story to tell that’s going to resonate with everyone else that eats it, that you’re a great home cook and that’s going to translate to a profitable business.

David Chang:

It’s actually not so different than the gold rush in America years ago. It’s that prospect that you can do something that doesn’t require extraordinary skillsets. You just have to make food and added with the fact that this tantalizing prospect that something so simple can turn into a business. Because it seems so simple, it’s like I can do it too. And once you get a taste, once you see that you can make someone feel good with your food, that’s the addiction. You’re like, “I love that. I want to do that more and more. And I can make money doing this?”

David Chang:

And I’d also add one more thing to that, Preet. So much of the culinary sort of knowledge and canon about opening restaurants have sort of like mask the failure. We sort of really celebrate the entrepreneur climbing up the metaphorical mountaintop and that’s the journey, that’s what you have to do. And we rarely ever look at the failure.

Preet Bharara:

I experienced it firsthand hearing the stories in my house about what a mistake this was and how money was going down the drain and how they had to cut costs. I washed dishes at my family restaurant. I waited tables at my family restaurant. My brother did too. And multiple nights a week during the existence of the restaurant, we would go there while my dad, again after hours as a trained pediatrician, would help to do the books, and my brother and I would do our homework in the back room of the restaurant. But it’s always been amazing to me given that how many people think, we can make it work.

David Chang:

One thing to add that, it’s important to know what your parents, what your father did too as even though he’s a trained pediatrician, it’s about community. It’s about making food for yourself and the people around you. It’s so important to remind yourselves that one reason why it continues to happen, and people continue to open restaurants, it’s one of the only ways an immigrant can open up a business. Without knowledge of how to speak English, you can literally open a business, selling food without knowing anything other than how to make food. And that is what makes it such a dream for people to do.

Preet Bharara:

Right, and your own ethnic food. It is true that my father and his friend didn’t know much about the restaurant business, but they knew and understood the ethnic food because they had grown up with it. And the other people in New Jersey, who were going to be the potential customers did not. So, it was bringing something new.

Preet Bharara:

I mean, I think they thought it was an innovation. They were a little bit ahead of their time. Now, the idea of an Indian restaurant not being frequented by a lot of people seems odd but it took … Look, you talked about this in the book too and I wondered while we’re on the subject what you can observe about the introduction of a new food into a community particularly if it’s not going to be cheap. For a long time, we never went to Indian restaurants even when they became more popular although my parents owned one. It’s kind of a paradox because we can make Indian food at home. You’re going to go to an Indian restaurant and pay someone else for chicken tikka masala? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s your sense of how difficult it is to introduce new cuisine to communities unfamiliar with them?

David Chang:

I mean, something I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience with and it’s that line from the Moneyball, the movie version, the first person through the wall always gets hurt the most. And unfortunately, for anyone that’s opened a business selling food for the first time to community that’s never had it, they almost always go out of business. And it’s not just that, it’s the two dozen after that that almost always go out of business.

David Chang:

And it just shows you that cultural truths of how we think about the world particularly food is almost always wrong. Deliciousness is a universal thing. I really believe that. If you find something to be delicious for the most part, there’s certainly exceptions to the rule, if you make something delicious, I think it really does transcend culture. And the only thing that prevents you from understanding it or being open to that is not necessarily a xenophobia, it’s just that you scared and it’s different. And it challenges your assumptions of the world on what you think is delicious.

David Chang:

It’s hard to ever like crack a new market. It’s damn near impossible and the only way you can do it is just failure. And I don’t know if that’s an easy answer for that question, Preet, but the thing that I see as hope is that it does happen. It happens. Eventually, people are open to it. It happens all the time.

Preet Bharara:

And not just that, there’s an evolution of people’s thinking in different communities with respect to how to think about certain kinds of cuisine. I mean, you say in the book, you remind us not too long ago, Italian food was considered inferior. Is that right?

David Chang:

Absolutely. I mean, I talked about Italian food so much particularly Italian-American food because I’m so jealous of it. I’m incredibly envious of its success and its global outreach because it’s so popular. We’re talking from pizza to spaghetti and all kinds of pasta. I remember growing up as a kid. I was born in ’77 going to the grocery store and looking at olive oil in the supermarket isles and realizing they actually sold pomace oil which is crazy, which is like the lowest kind, like almost motor oil. And there was no distinction between extra virgin or … It was just like olive oil.

David Chang:

And now, in 2020, that’s been this way for 10 plus years, you actually have an entire isle in many supermarkets dedicated to olive oil. From different levels of spiciness, from different parts of the world to different filtration, it’s unbelievable. And just think about pasta. I mean 25, 30 years ago, no one knew that there was bucatini. There was like spaghetti and that was it.

David Chang:

And now, your kid says, “If you don’t know different shapes of pasta, you’re an imbecile almost.” And that’s crazy to think about it and I remember being in cooking school, a famous chef, Alain Ducasse got six Michelin stars. And that was a big thing in high-end dining, how could one guy have two restaurants with three Michelin stars and blah-blah-blah. And all the French chefs were talking ill of him saying, “He just does glorified Italian food. That’s just beneath them. It’s too simple.” And now, that’s all people want and even in the [inaudible 00:39:27] New York Times restaurant review which is still like the paper of record for food too is, can a New York Times ever bestow four stars to an Italian restaurant? Like that was a thing, like could it ever be good enough?

David Chang:

That’s crazy to think about now because no one would ever think that because that’s actually what all people want to eat, is Italian food. And that acceptance happened over time with travel, with education, with marketing on television. And that can happen with all foods and I think you’re going to see with Asian food. You’re going to see with Indian food if that’s not happening already. You’re going to see with the foods of Africa. All these new stories from different people are happening and I believe wholeheartedly in that. We just have to give it time.

Preet Bharara:

I want to get to your story in a second but before that, you just reminded me of something. Tell me if my perception was incorrect. I feel like for a period of time back in the ’90s, you go into an Italian restaurant and the one thing you could not get was spaghetti. It was all sorts of other fancy things and people thought it was too lowbrow, a nice Italian restaurant to serve spaghetti. And then there came a time when people reverted back to some basic idea of what people wanted. And now, you can’t get spaghetti. Am I correct or not?

David Chang:

You can get spaghetti every which way possible now.

Preet Bharara:

But like 10, 15 years ago, you couldn’t get spaghetti in an Italian restaurant. What’s that about?

David Chang:

I can tell you exactly why because people thought it was lowbrow. I mean that’s like not that long ago for people to consider Italian food as lowbrow. I mean, it’s crazy.

Preet Bharara:

I mean, every once in a while, I went out in New York. I just want spaghetti and meatballs of a high quality, not possible.

David Chang:

See, there’s a chef that actually change that and this is why food to me is so fascinating. It’s a little bit like sports where you can connect the dots with the coaching tree and who came from what. And a lot of the sort of the genesis and all the change in New York City food came from these chefs that came from Europe and they trained a whole generation of American chefs. So, someone like Scott Conant who work for Christian Delouvrier and a bunch of other famous chefs. And he’s a chef of note. You can see him on the Food Network. He created really one dish that changed dining. That was spaghetti pomodoro.

David Chang:

He didn’t create it. He just brought something that was very popular in Italy and made it for Americans with fresh spaghetti with a different name of like … So, it’s not spaghetti. It’s just all marketing, so much of food is marketing and they just tweak it here or there. And you can sell it for $28 and people say, “This is the best dish I’ve ever had.”

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, as a kid, even my Indian parents, my Indian mom made spaghetti with meatballs. She learned that very quickly when we socialized after immigrating to United States. And who doesn’t like spaghetti and meatballs? So, let’s talk about your beginnings. I learned some things I hadn’t really known about you. So, you were a golf prodigy as a young boy and had terrific natural talent. You described how you played a lot of golf and you had significant coaching. And you could beat everybody and then one day, you sort of lost the eye of the tiger. And you described it as being sort of you were out of the mental game because golf is such a mental sport.

Preet Bharara:

On the other hand and the reason we’re talking right now, you say you had no skill at all in the culinary arts, in cooking or anything else and yet that ended up becoming the way in which you became as successful as you are. How do you explain that? And then the larger question, philosophical question for you is, are you at the point where you’re at now because of luck or because of merit?

David Chang:

Wow. You’re my friend, man. Why are you asking me these hard questions? What the hell?

Preet Bharara:

You’re the one who’s talking about Camus.

David Chang:

No … Well, listen, golf … It’s funny. I didn’t really understand what gaslighting meant until I thought about it in relation to my own life. And I still couldn’t tell you if I was really good or if I was just right place, right time. Or maybe the competition wasn’t good enough, I don’t know. But I do wrestle with this often because I would rather be objectively great at something. And that’s why I love sports so much and golf, while I was good at golf, I wasn’t the best because that was Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson growing up and other people.

David Chang:

If I didn’t reach that level, then I’m a failure. And at least that was how I was raised and I still think, if I’m not the very best, I’m a failure. And even like football, I was really good at football but I didn’t get Division I scholarship. So, what does that say? Am I good or am I just good in a … I mean, the big fish in a small pond, who knows?

David Chang:

A lot of this is how I was raised and I can’t un-program, deprogram that. That’s just how I think and it’s almost become pathological. It’s like you have to strive to be the best. And at least in sports, at least if the referees don’t intervene or something, it’s a pretty objective thing. I’m faster than you, I score better than you. And that’s something I understood as a kid playing golf and then when I started to hit the onset of puberty for whatever reason, I think it was mostly mental, “Wait, I’m not that good.” That was debilitating.

David Chang:

I was so cocky as a kid because I beat everybody until I started to play other tournaments, until other kids started to get older and they started to develop. And all of a sudden to realize, “Wait, was I really good or was that just a mirage? Was that just a figment of my imagination?” That messed me up. There’s no question that did and I think that has carried over in terms of how I think about my success as a cook today.

David Chang:

Even in cooking, my first partner in cooking school quit school because she refused to be my partner because I was so bad. That’s like no one ever has that story. It’s six levels of culinary school, at least the one that I went to and you’re paired up with a partner and you do everything together like science in high school. And we finished level one which was like two months and she was so fed up with my ineptitude and just being a bad cook. She told the chefs or instructors that, “I don’t want to have David as my partner anymore,” and that just never happens. You don’t change your partner regardless.

David Chang:

She said, “And then I quit. I quit. I’d rather not become a cook than work with David Chang.”

Preet Bharara:

Than work with David Chang. So, that’s not a positive reinforcement thing.

David Chang:

No.

Preet Bharara:

What kept you going?

David Chang:

I think it was a fear of embarrassment and fear of not being able to do anything else. I’ve been given the privilege of having a lot of great access to things, in education and opportunity. And like many other people that got into cooking, you got into cooking because you couldn’t do anything else. And I felt like I was … If I couldn’t do this, what else was I going to do? So that was one. It was just fear and embarrassment of not be able to do anything else.

David Chang:

And two, I think what I learned early on was if I just work harder at this, I’ll get better. What gave me so much meaning as a person and ultimately saved me was that cooking was something if I poured myself in, I could objectively see moments of improvement. I could take a raw ingredient and get better at it by the end of the day whether it’d be knife skills or how I butcher something or how I cook something, repetition made me better. And that was just incredibly addicting for me.

David Chang:

So, I really believe that. I’m like hard work is the great equalizer in a lot of things particularly in cooking because we’re not trying to make a rocket that goes to Mars. We’re talking about food, which again isn’t difficult but simultaneously very difficult. And that was what really drew me in, was I can get better at this and it didn’t take any other skill other than being stubborn.

Preet Bharara:

Can you describe for folks the nature of your restaurants? I know they’re very different what you were trying to do because if people are not familiar, they won’t really know. With the first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar and then the others what you were trying to do and how you went about it? It’s a big question.

David Chang:

Yeah, a big one.

Preet Bharara:

Give us a little summary, Dave?

David Chang:

I wanted to bring ramyeon to America. That was originally it and do it in a way that wasn’t Japanese, to do something that was American.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think about calling it pomodoro?

David Chang:

That probably would have worked better the first year because whatever we did, didn’t work that well. We almost went out of business. Each time we opened a restaurant for the first couple, we almost went out of business because it was just out of everyone’s comfort zone. No one knew what the hell we were doing. If I can look back with 20-20 vision and connect the dots, the best way for me to explain to people was we were trying to reinvent what Asian-American food was. And in the onset, I never said we’re making Asian food. I said we were making American food because I didn’t want to be typecast.

David Chang:

And so much of what Momofuku became and still is today was, I want to say it’s a referendum, but it was just a starting point to see what food could be and to challenge authenticity, to also be an exercise of what is actually essential in dining. Do you need the ambiance? Do you need the tastevin on a sommelier? Do you need to have like a leather bound menu? Can you play music? So much of Momofuku early on and we’ve still have some of that DNA as we’ve grown older but we’ve matured was questioning the status quo in food. And there was a lot of anger in how we approach a lot of these issues.

David Chang:

So, I know what I just said sounds insane because we’re talking about restaurants but it really legitimately was about doing things that weren’t just specifically about food.

Preet Bharara:

So, something else you’re very honest about which we should address and let you address are not just sort of issues related to business and issues related to financing but your own mental health issues. Explain some of what you talk about in the book to folks.

David Chang:

Without talking forever, basically I suffer from bipolar which seems to be super popular these days telling everybody that, “Hey, I have mental illness.” But this is something I’ve been wrestling with for a long time and I’ve had 16 years of therapy. It’s something I never even wanted to talk about even with my own psychiatrist to start off. If you read the book, you’ll know that that’s one of the reasons why I opened up a business because I was just sort of … I had to make a binary choice on what to do and I just decide I was going to do a restaurant.

David Chang:

And so much of what and who I am, was because of my illness. And it’s something that I’ve kept private for a long time. But those that were close to me knew that when they have problems, they would ask me. And they were like, “Oh, Dave is pretty crazy. Let me ask him what he would do.” And I’ve been able to help a lot of people over the years.

David Chang:

Again, through therapy and getting better through the highs and lows, it’s something that I’ve had a deep personal relationship with about how I talk about it. I’ve never quite loved a lot of the other literature that’s out there. I think there are some really good books out there, Kay Jamison Redfield. Will Styron probably has the best. He wrote Sophie’s Choice and he has a very short book called Darkness Visible. Just talking about mental illness is off-putting for so many people like, “Ugh, I don’t want to hear this. This is like whatever. This is too depressing literally.”

David Chang:

I think that was the problem, is more and more people, at least in my business, my world, suffered from some form of mental illness. I also know this because without a doubt, so many people in the Asian community, Korean-American community suffer from mental illness but you don’t talk about it. It’s seen as a form of weakness. I just reached to a point where I was like enough is enough. People are suffering. This is stupid. We should be able to talk about this.

David Chang:

Part of why I want to talk about this was to de-stigmatize it to the point … The goal really is can you look at mental illness the same way that someone might suffer from asthma or unfortunately cancer or something like that because these are all forms of illnesses that people are willing to be open about. Yet mental illness, people want to be private and keep in the closet or even acknowledge it at all.

Preet Bharara:

And what has your experience been with medication?

David Chang:

It’s been topsy-turvy to say the least.

Preet Bharara:

And by the way I ask this because you were very specific as to time periods and as to particular medications you’ve taken. So, I’m not probing something [crosstalk 00:52:10] didn’t talk about it in the book.

David Chang:

The way it all happened was I viewed medication … First, I viewed getting help as a weakness. Secondly, I get help. The last thing I ever wanted to do was take medicine. That’s for wimps. You just don’t do that. And then you reached a point where you’re like, “Wait, what am I … Who am I trying to prove this to? I’m going to try it out,” so you reluctantly try it out.

David Chang:

You see what works and what doesn’t work because each person is different and their body responds to medicine differently. And the psychiatric field has just so many different kinds of medicine available to them, so I tried a bunch until I found a cocktail of stuff that work well for me. Sometimes, those things that work well for you begin to not work so well for you. So, it’s a constant dialogue with your doctor about what is happening, how do you feel about something?

David Chang:

There was period where I was off it completely and I didn’t even realize I was on a manic episode for a while and doing really stupid decisions about my business. Recently, Preet, I just got my DNA tested for the genome for all the things that my body regulates with mental illness, from my brain to how my kidney functions and liver and blah-blah-blah. And now I have legitimate science that tells me which medicines I need to be on. I’ve now adjusted accordingly to that.

David Chang:

So that’s been illuminating to see how my body responds to different medicines and the genes that are working or not working in my favor, so I could tailor it accurately. And how different would that be if you were again being treated for cancer because not every cancer treatment is the same. You need to adjust it accordingly for the person that’s going through it. Taking medicine has been something I am passionately a believer in.

Preet Bharara:

You were, as you say in the book, close to Anthony Bourdain, Tony Bourdain, the noted author, food expert, television host. What did he mean to you?

David Chang:

I mean Tony was an older brother to me. And I really mean that. He was someone that I was very close to. I never thought … Originally when his book came out, Kitchen Confidential, I think a lot of people in the culinary world was like, “Whatever, this guy was a middling cook.” But he wrote a book that was very honest about a certain kind of cooking and it was something that changed our profession.

David Chang:

And then he really became this iconic figure for so many people in the business. I grew to admire him, not thinking that one day I would ever get to be friends with him. O of the blue, he became someone that promoted my career, that invested a lot of time in me. We worked together on several projects and he became my bodyguard in so many ways, “Do this. Don’t do that. Look out for this.” And so much of my success, I owed to him.

David Chang:

And that’s just one part of who Tony was and the other part of Tony was someone that would, again, give me life advice. He was just someone that was always giving. It wasn’t just to me now after he passed, we see he was this way to so many different people, and I don’t know how we had the time to do things for himself as we see him that he really didn’t.

David Chang:

As he became more successful, as he was doing his CNN show, I saw less of him because I didn’t want to bother him. He was always so giving of his time, I didn’t want to bother him so much. So, I would say the last three years, I’d probably see him like a handful of times a year instead of once a month. It’s never easy to talk about but I always felt that Tony was going to continue to show the way and lead the way for myself and many others. So, it was incredibly sad the day that he killed himself.

Preet Bharara:

When he did that, given that you have had thoughts along those same lines, did you have a particular kind of reaction?

David Chang:

It was intense sadness. One of my friends, a guy that actually did the cover of the book that never made it was, he said, “I think we’re sad because we’re sort of mourning our own deaths in the sense that this wasn’t supposed to happen to Tony. This was supposed to happen to us.” And the grief involved with that because we always placed Tony on a whole another level, that he was impenetrable to all kinds of problems. I think what happened was that obviously was not true. I think I felt guilty, a lot of people that knew him felt guilty that maybe we were part of the problem in his life instead of the solution.

David Chang:

I think that was really a moment where I was going to be a lot more open about it too because I never once asked Tony. Yeah, we talked about it but I never got deeper into it because there were certainly signs and Tony has never been shy about a lot of the problems he’s had. I just refused to go down those rabbit holes with him and was always more self-serving to me. So, I thought the best thing I could do to honor Tony was to talk about my own struggles. And that’s what I did, but the day he died and the months after it were incredibly sad and they still are.

Preet Bharara:

You talk a bit about being more grounded and being married, which you thought wouldn’t happen for you and having a son. How are you doing now?

David Chang:

I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. And I feel so lucky to be part of this journey of his life and to be part of the club of being a dad, a parent. And that’s the one positive being in quarantine. I don’t think I ever would have spent this much time with him to the point where I think he’s tired of spending time with me. So, I just think it’s the best. It’s the best thing in the world. It really is.

Preet Bharara:

I concur. That’s been the only highlight of the pandemic for me too. My kids are older. Are you hopeful about the future?

David Chang:

You know, Preet, I think most people that know me would say no, but I am. And I genuinely am and I’m not just saying this. One reason why I’m sort of sifting through all the dark elements of my business is because I do believe that’s how we’re going to find the answer. I want to make sure unequivocally that we are prepared for the worst-case scenario because we have the time. I’m a big proponent of American pragmatism as a philosophy and I think we needed to do what is most useful right now and that I think is safety protocols, that is making sure that our employees are going to be able to operate in a safe way and our diners as well.

David Chang:

But we can’t create a vaccine, so we can only do so many things. But we have the opportunity to address the underlying issues that negatively impact our business. And these are some, “From a lot of people in the business, Dave, these are impossible scenarios. How are you ever going to fix them?” And we had Dr. Jim Kim on my podcast and he’s someone that is a very much influential figure in my life. And he said … They told him the same things when they were trying to tackle the AIDS crisis in Africa, “That’s an impossible thing, Jim. What you’re doing is stupid and impossible.”

David Chang:

I think the impossible is why I am hopeful, Preet. I really believe that because it’s impossible and it’s not just the problems in the food world. If we apply the paradigm of the old to the current problems of today, of course, they’re going to seem impossible. Where I have hope and I’ve always had hope whether it’s my own mental illness or my business or anything that’s forward-looking is the hope that there will be an answer. And there is an answer if we persevere and if we sift through all the stuff that’s happening. We find patterns and we’re going to need ingenuity and innovation. It may not happen for me, it may not happen from someone in the culinary industry. It could happen from a diner. It’s that one idea that seems so crazy, that’s what we need to be open about.

David Chang:

And two, I mean, I just think that these ideas have to come from outside our industry, and we need to be open to it and I believe that we’re going to find these ideas because it’s not going to happen from what we’re doing right now. I know that sounds crazy and this is the most optimistic I get, is something that doesn’t even happen. It’s not even in existence right now. I have to believe in that idea that something can be better.

Preet Bharara:

David Chang, congratulations on the book, Eat a Peach: A Memoir. It’s great. I hope it does very well, and it’s been a real delight having you on the show.

David Chang:

Thanks, Preet. I appreciate it.

Preet Bharara:

My conversation with Dave Chang continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. In this special bonus, Dave and I discuss some of his stories from the kitchen. And Dave answers a lightning round of questions. Try out the membership free for two weeks at cafe.com/insider. You’ll get access to the full archive of exclusive content including the weekly podcast I cohost with Anne Milgram, the Cyber Space podcast with John Carlin, the United Security podcast cohosted by Lisa Monaco and Ken Wainstein, audio essays by Elie Honig and me and more. Again, that’s cafe.com/insider.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Dave Chang.

Preet Bharara:

If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me, @PreetBharara, with a #askpreet. Or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-24 PREET. Or you can send an email to [email protected]

Preet Bharara:

Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE Studios. Your host is Preet Bharara. The Executive Producer is Tamara Sepper. The Senior Producer is Adam Waller. The Senior Audio Producer is David Tatasciore, and the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Nat Weiner, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, Geoff Isenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Maley. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay Tuned.

Click below to listen to the bonus for this episode. Exclusively for insiders

Featured image of the bonus content for this episode
Stay Tuned Bonus 9/17: David Chang