Huang time coming
Is Orlando expatriate Eddie Huang the next Anthony Bourdain?
Published: February 27, 2013
Fighting – often literally – against what he saw as an unfairly stacked deck, Huang struggled to find the correct outlet for his energies. He started a streetwear company (did well with Obama shirts in the 2008 race), graduated from law school and passed the bar (happy parents, and at least he can read his own contracts), tried his hand at stand-up comedy (stage name: Magic Dong Huang), competed on a Food Network TV show (Ultimate Recipe Showdown; called a co-competitor's dish "fucked-up kitchen-sink peanut sauce"), got a Cooking Channel show, Cheap Bites (lost it after trashing fellow Cooking Channel personality Anne Burrell on Twitter), and eventually opened Baohaus, serving Taiwanese steamed-bun sandwiches that melded his mother's cooking techniques with flavor combinations that met his own highly tuned standards. All the while he was blogging, tweeting, publishing essays anywhere he could, in his own inimitable patois: part Chingrish, part hip-hop, part eager undergrad, like some kind of Food Will Hunting.
Eddiemania is on blast now; it seems there's no media outlet he hasn't owned, from CNN to Forbes to the World Journal. As I write this, I'm listening to Huang's episode of Hooked Up, chef Tom Colicchio's fishing-and-eating web series, and I've got a browser-punishing number of tabs open to dozens of current profiles and interviews. On Tuesday, Feb. 26, Huang gave a four-minute speech at TED 2013. (This year's theme? "The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered." Hardly.)
Clown him if you want for all of that early stuff – the TV show misfires, the stand-up, the DJ Ducksauce persona – that was just Huang cooking off the first. (To "cook off the first" is to flash-boil meat to get rid of any odor, blood, whatever; that liquid is then discarded and the process of slow-cooking and deeply flavoring the meat commences.) He's applying the principles of Taiwanese (and Southern) cooking to his life: Use what you have, and don't waste anything. Make it delicious.
A clue to where Huang's path may lead lies in an October 2010 blog post, when he wrote, "I'm interested in the culture of eating. I'm not a chef." Like Bourdain, whose career is no longer limited to cooking or even just talking about cooking, maybe the time Huang has spent in kitchens is just a springboard to launch him into a position where he can travel, eat, and write about traveling and eating.
In an email conversation, though, Huang says his only goal is to "go water-ski with naked models on my back like Branson." Hey, as Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls), another food-and-rhyme-obsessed outsider, once said, "Sky's the limit."
The Boat Stopped Here: Eddie In O-Town
"Every day, I got sent to school with Chinese lunch. … Every day it smelled like shit. … I didn't care about the smell, since it was all I knew, but no one wanted to sit with the stinky kid." (p.30)
Huang's entry into Orlando was a bumpy one. His first (public) school suited him OK, but when his parents transferred him to the private Baptist First Academy, Huang says, "That's when it all went down the shitter." The inevitable cultural conflicts ensued, though it wasn't strictly to do with being Chinese – any kid who didn't grow up going to Christian church is going to ask the kind of logic-based questions that really piss off a Bible-thumpin' teacher. Huang "just wants to be down," though (like any third-grader), so the first thing that had to go was his home-cooked lunches. His mom gave in and bought him Kid Cuisine and Juicy Juice, but when he still got called "Chink" in the lunchroom, that was it: He slammed another kid's arm in the microwave, launching the pattern of physical retaliation for racial slurs that repeated itself throughout his academic career.
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