Eddie Huang is much more than the hip-hop obsessed, chubby middle schooler you've seen on prime time.
In his seemingly long life, Huang, 34, has been an attorney, drug dealer, sneaker salesman, TV host, streetwear clothing designer and blogger. Today, he's the bestselling author of Fresh Off the Boat, adapted into an ABC sitcom, host of Viceland's Huang's World —which explores food, subcultures and identity politics—and the chef and co-owner of BaoHaus, a popular New York City restaurant making Taiwanese-Chinese bao.
That's a lot of lives.
On Monday, Huang heads to the Jewish Community Center for a conversation about his unconventional success and his new memoir Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China, which follows him on a quest to his ancestral homeland to find out how his food rates in China.
We sat down with the Renaissance man before his talk.
How was writing this book different from your first memoir?
The first book was entirely from the perspective of a 29-year-old Taiwanese-Chinese-American that was sick and tired of not having a voice or being represented in this country. It was very Return of the Jedi and I was angry. I love that book. In the three years since Fresh Off the Boat came out, it has fundamentally changed the way Americans talk about race, and I'm proud of that, but I don't think I'll ever write like that again. When you've been angry for so long, you don't know how to be without that anger. That anger was your armor, it was part of your identity, and even though it's eating you up, you try to hang onto it. But meeting Dena really changed me. She loved me and I learned to love myself. I also had a better relationship with my parents once they were proud of me and the chip on my shoulder just went away.
Would you recommend a similar "reverse immigration" for all first-generation Americans?
I would. I think it's very important to connect with your native land. You have a lot more in common with the motherland than you think you do. From the way we move through the world to eating habits to values, whether you're aware of it or not, you are a child of somewhere else.
What was your favorite dish you tried while in China?
There are too many to list, but definitely the red cooked pork at Old Jesse, hot pot in Chengdu, Lao ma ti hua (pig foot soup in chengdu), and roasted rabbit heads.
Did your travels through China influence your cooking at all? Do you plan to introduce new dishes at the restaurant?
I've been using all the techniques I learned for the last two years. Every time I travel, I learn something. Some chefs latch onto specific ingredients, but for me it's all about technique and temperature—The way in which you apply temperature to different ingredients fundamentally changes the character. People don't pay enough attention to the relationship between ingredient, time, and temperature. Southern American barbecue is probably the best way to learn this fundamental lesson, and once you learn it, you apply it across the board.
Of all your many jobs/ career paths, which one had taught you the most life lessons?
All teach you something different and the same.
What advice would you give fellow first-gens who are seeking success in the States?
Learn who you are, be who you are, then love who you are.
You're a very busy man running a restaurant, a TV show, and more. What do you do in your down time?
Play basketball, box, eat, drink, do molly, watch the Redskins/Knicks, and hang with my friends. I'm pretty average and ratchet outside my work.
Any new projects in the works?
Bauhaus LA, another season of Huang's World, another book, I wrote a film, I'm writing a TV show— I got things.
Do you have any favorite spots in San Francisco?
El Farolito and RIP Ho's, the Chinese restaurant.
// An Evening With Eddie Huang: Monday, June 6th, 7pm. Jewish Community Center: 3200 California St. (Presidio Heights), Tickets $27, Get them here.