Celebrity chef David Chang: ‘I get way too much credit’

David Chang will find out Sunday whether he's an Emmy winner for "Ugly Delicious" (Netflix)
David Chang on the set of the Emmy-nominated "Ugly Delicious" (Netflix)

Despite the pandemic, David Chang has a lot going on these days. The chef, who operates restaurants locally at Palazzo and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, released a book last week and will find out Sunday if he can add “Emmy winner” to his list of accomplishments.

“Eat a Peach: A Memoir” was released Sept. 8, although Chang admits that when he signed on to do it, he never envisioned its publication.

“It’s something that I agreed to, like, seven or eight years ago, not thinking that I’d ever have to do it,” Chang jokes. “And the next thing you know, my publisher was like, ‘You know you have to do this now.’ And I just had to bite the bullet and decide to do it.”

While his initial plan was to publish “like a business handbook,” Chang says that once he came around to publishing an autobiography at age 43, he had three big topics he wanted to cover.

“I wanted to talk about mental health. I wanted to talk about being Asian American, and the identity issues of that. And I wanted to talk about the culinary world — where it was, what I learned in it, where it’s going, and all the mistakes that I hold myself accountable for.”

‘I hate it more’

Now that the book is complete, Chang admits he still isn’t happy with it, noting “It’s crazy how many times I’ve read it, (and) each time I’m like, I hate it more.”

Nonetheless, he says, “I do think people are appreciative of it, and I hope that people enjoy it, and learn from it.”

While the chef will probably have to wait awhile for reader feedback on the book, he’ll find out how Emmy voters feel about his TV show Sunday. Chang’s Netflix series, “Ugly Delicious,” is nominated in the outstanding hosted nonfiction series or special category, alongside “Vice,” “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” and Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Chang is already fairly certain how that will go, however.

“Let’s just be honest, Jerry Seinfeld is going to win anyway,” he predicts, before reflecting on being in the same category as the TV legend. “To be able to utter that statement is so patently absurd, I don’t even understand.”

Chang is quick to praise his show’s producer and the crew, however, saying that any chance he has of winning the trophy is because of them.

“If I’m good at it, it’s because I have a great team. I have an Oscar winner documentarian in Morgan Neville and his team at Tremolo (Productions). And just like Momofuku, I get way too much credit.”

When asked about the experience of making a TV show, Chang says the most frustrating part is the permanence.

“People assume that whatever you do, there’s no other perspective — that reality is the only reality that you believe in. And I think that’s what’s hard. Just because you said something or you did something doesn’t mean you still hold that opinion today. TV has this weird time capsule-like thing. And that’s what I hate about it. It’s not a living, breathing thing.”

Restaurant world always changing

That’s very different from the restaurant world, which is always changing. That’s particularly true in 2020, as restaurants try to adapt to the new realities of COVID-19. Chang believes the future of his industry will be different in every city. Yet, while he acknowledges the hardships the pandemic has brought to the industry, he also thinks it offers an opportunity to rethink the way things are done.

“I think the industry needed an overhaul of its engine, if you want to use a car metaphor. And regardless of what city you’re in, or what kind of restaurant you were in, we were trying to fix the car as it was going 70 miles per hour on a highway. And now is an opportunity, because we were forced to stop, to fix the car properly.”

He admits he doesn’t know who will find the necessary solutions. But he’s optimistic they’ll be found.

“You have to be honest. You have to be transparent about the obstacles in front of you. And because you’re real, and asking yourself how you come up with impossible solutions to impossible problems, that is when I get optimistic. Whoever can come up with that is going to really change the game. And I’m excited to see that.”

Chang’s local restaurants (Majordomo Meat & Fish and Moon Palace at Palazzo and Momofuku at The Cosmopolitan) are all open for business.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates Palazzo.