On the latest episode of his new podcast, The Dave Chang Show, celebrity chef and burgeoning media mogul David Chang reflects on the death of his friend Anthony Bourdain while opening up about his own struggle with depression. Chang discusses the high cost of mental health care in America, the stigma attached to depression and other mental illness, and how his own cultural background prevented him from seeking necessary help for years.
“Before I even got help [I was struggling for] two years, three years,” he says in the episode, which was recorded two days after Bourdain’s death. “I believe that depression affects Koreans a lot. It’s something that, in the past, particularly in an Asian household, the idea that you could get help for this was insane.”
Chang explains that once he decided to seek therapy, money was the number one factor preventing him from receiving the number of sessions he needed. In the early 2000s, ahead of Momofuku Noodle Bar’s opening in New York, his health plan covered three sessions per month, and he would pay for a fourth out of pocket. He notes his friends in the industry who lived outside the United States did not have to worry about mental care thanks to more robust public health coverage in their home countries. Only when Momofuku started making money was the chef able to up the number of sessions he received per month.
He describes his issues as having to do with self-doubt, paranoia, and imposter syndrome. Chang says he has always obsessed over reviews of his work because it has allowed him to feel some sort of validation — an outlook he believes is “totally fucked” — which makes negative criticism difficult to accept. Starting with the simple idea of opening Momofuku Noodle Bar, Chang has consistently set what he describes as unrealistic goals, as a way to keep pushing forward and avoid getting bogged down in depression. The chef/restaurateur explains:
For me, the way I work... it was going to lift me out of depression by the simple fact of doing work, and even when I had days that were hard to get out of bed, it was like training for a marathon. It was just something you had to do, and when everything else didn’t make sense, and my rational mind was not really working for me, I knew that there was some goal that, while I might not be able to understand or articulate, I knew that there was a purpose, and I had to get to work.
Chang does not mention the word “suicidal” in this episode, but he reveals that in the early Momofuku years, he did not plan nor expect to live a long life: “We were not going to be around in 10 years. We weren‘t going to be around in 10 years because I was not supposed to be alive. I made almost every decision like it was going to be a one-way ticket.” Chang says he didn‘t sign a 10-year lease extension for his restaurant space because he had “no intention of running Momofuku past the age of 35.”
Everyone is different, and everyone’s needs are different, Chang acknowledges. The treatment he has received and tactics he has used to deal with depression won’t work for everyone. He believes it is a disease that must be treated on a case-by-case basis. While he is devastated by Bourdain’s death, Chang may have found a silver lining in the wake of tragedy.
“One of the good things is that this is going to not make talking about this kind of stuff so embarrassing and so hidden,” he says. “The one thing I really suggest to you, if you haven’t had any help yet, or if you’re trying to find help, or if you need help, is don’t lose hope. You have to hope for a better day.”