We first encountered New York chef and restaurateur Eddie Huang a few years ago when he fired the metaphorical warning shots that eventually made the San Francisco food truck Chairman Bao bow down. A lawyer himself, Huang had already been using the name for a signature item at his Baohaus and knew he didn't have to sit idly by while this newcomer gained fame for the name.
When we met him in Manhattan in late 2010, Huang -- who had also clocked hours as a standup comedian -- gave us some alternate name suggestions to bring back home to the S.F. truck. He thought that that it could be rechristened after some other great leader in Chinese history, like Long Duk Dong Bao. Or Connie Chung Bao. Not a huge surprise from someone known to call himself Magic Dong Huang.
Chairman Bao is now the Chairman Truck and Eddie Huang is now an author with the publication of his memoir, Fresh Off The Boat, with a VICE web series of the same name. Huang is about to make his third-ever trip to San Francisco, but this time he comes in peace. He'll be interviewed by fellow author Adam Mansbach at 6 p.m. on Feb. 4 at Omnivore Books (3885A Cesar Chavez).
We know the digits for the Magic Dong, so we gave Huang a call.
Huang has packed a lot of life into his 30 years, and he is revealing as he describes how it felt for he and his brothers to grow up as Asian immigrants in Orlando -- and with parents who fought a lot. He drowned out the arguments in his headphones and absorbed hip-hop deeply into his system, reflected here with many lyrical rap references.
Sports also became an escape, and the book is also heavily weaved from the perspective of an athlete and ardent inside fan. He threads together a language of rhymes, plays, and Chinese food, and although he describes a degree of loneliness and otherness from being a kid who was different from his classmates, he also brilliantly articulates an experience that is quite common for the children of immigrants in America.
His sometimes brutal honesty in the book has already had an impact on his family, he says.
"My dad's initial reaction was really cool," he recalls. "He texted me and said, 'I'm so sorry,' and I'm like, 'Dad, there's nothing to be sorry about. I thought you were a great dad; you're still a great dad.' He's like, 'I don't know, looking at this, why I brought our family to this country. You should raise your kids in China.' I was like, 'No! Yo, Dad, we're American!' I live in New York 'cuz it's my favorite city in the world. It was painful for me writing but I think it was more painful for him reading.
"It's tough, I never really talked to him about stuff I was going through, like struggling with identity, all those things," he continues. "We didn't talk about those things on a daily basis, it was more like, 'You better be a doctor, you better be a lawyer, you better be a good person.' They had very clear goals, but I think on the daily, I really struggled with their desires for my life and I don't think they realized how much I did."
Just as his book breaks new stylistic ground, so does its related VICE series, which fits in extraordinarily well with the other world-wise, politically curious, and boundary-pushing video content on the site. Huang gets to dream up international adventures united only by the thread of provocative food and execute them.
"People really get into our lives," he says of the show. "They know me, the producers, the shooters, I blog about them, Instagram. It's a real family and I think that people who watch it, they enjoy it, they notice it, they talk about it, I respond to people in the comments. We're really trying to bring a community around that show."
Huang has penned a lot of recipes for various outlets, including High Times and Playboy. But publishing a cookbook isn't the main focus of his current direction.
"I love food," he asserts. "But what I really want to talk about right now is culture identity and politics. I think I'm in a good zone, I'm very locked in, and I don't want to fuck around."