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Writer, chef, restaurateur Eddie Huang’s cups runneth over

Eddie Huang hates being pigeonholed. The chef/owner of New York’s Baohaus would rather be known as a man who cooks and happens to run a restaurant. He’s also a man who writes. The son of Taiwanese immigrants wrote about his childhood in “Fresh off the Boat,” which became the basis of the ABC sitcom of the same name. Jeffrey Brown talks with Huang about his new literary effort, “Double Cup Love.”

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Finally tonight: on food, family, and knowing who you are, a “NewsHour” bookshelf conversation with chef Eddie Huang.

    Jeffrey Brown is back to get a taste.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, what do we have here?

  • EDDIE HUANG, Author, “Double Cup Love”:

    This is a new bao. This is our dumpling bao, which I like a lot. So you could try that one. Then this is the Chairman Bao that we’re most known for.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    These days, Eddie Huang is known for a lot of things. His hole-in-the-wall restaurant in downtown Manhattan, Baohaus, packs in crowds for lunch and late into the evening. The specialty here is pork buns, or baos, but Huang says it’s really about much more.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I know the food’s great and I love it and it represents so much of who I am, but what I’m really pushing is community in New York, because I think the purpose of restaurants is to distribute culture.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Distribute culture?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Yes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Which means food and more.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Food and, you know, just personality and values and the way we’re treating each other.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    He’s now exploring global food culture on a global scale, Eddie style, in a Viceland TV show called “Huang’s World.”

    Outside the restaurant recently, we talked about Eddie Huang’s world.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I think all my work is really rebelling against the matrix that’s trying to normalize us and create monoculture. And the funniest, most rewarding part about it is, all I have to do is be myself. And that’s all anybody has to do. Everybody’s kind of strange, you know?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But when you were growing up, that was hard.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    It’s very hard.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Because you were different.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Yes, it’s very hard when you are in a community that doesn’t allow you to be yourself.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Huang grew up in Orlando, Florida, the son of Taiwanese immigrants who opened a Western-style steakhouse and other restaurants.

    On one Vice episode, he went back home to celebrate Chinese new year.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Everything I learned is from my mom. I said to myself when I was like 12 or 13, man, I have got to start learning all these dishes and remembering them.

  • WOMAN:

    I don’t teach him. He steal from me.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Oh!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    He wrote of his childhood in the memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” but there was much darkness along with the humor, as he struggled for acceptance.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    In Orlando growing up, it was extremely hard. I had to fight just to like stand up on my own two feet. I got pushed down in school. People always wanted to fight me. People always had something to say about Chinamen.

    I remember playing little league baseball and these kids, after every practice and game, would run in a circle around me saying ching-chong, Eddie Huang sitting on a jungle gong. And like, you know, everybody laughed. And I was like, this sucks.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The ABC sitcom based on the book was mostly played for laughs, too much so for Huang, who was involved early on, but later publicly criticized the program.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I wasn’t happy with the sitcom. Even sometimes now, when I just read about the sitcom and the references they’re using, you know, it — it will bother me at times, but I have been able to understand the purpose that that show serves.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Which is what?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    We just needed to get on base. You know, we needed to get on base. There wasn’t a sitcom with Asians that you could watch anywhere on American television.

    We didn’t have representation. And while a sitcom isn’t the end-all/be-all of identity and representation in America, it’s a big step.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Huang traveled to China for his new book, a second memoir, “Double Cup Love.” The subtitle says it all, “On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China.”

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I kind of wanted to go home and see if I was actually Chinese.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You wanted to see if you were Chinese?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I wanted to go back to the motherland and see, like, if I fit their definition of what it meant to be Chinese. Like, would I be accepted?

    In a lot of ways, too, it’s like cooking engagement chicken for your, like, ancestral history. You know what I mean? Like, it was my proposal to my Chinese identity. Like, am I good enough? Will you have me?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And what happened? What did you find?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    A funny thing happened.

    It was a very Jedi maneuver that China pulled on me, which is, when you ask a question, it didn’t give you an answer. The answer was, really, you’re asking the wrong question. Every dish you make, it’s almost problem-solving, right?

    And I was almost asking, like, am I solving this problem like a Chinese person?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    It’s like, dude, you are — you are Chinese. The problem is, how do I make beef noodle soup? You came up with your solution. It’s delicious, it’s great, and it’s unlike anybody else’s solution here in China, because your experience has been different.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, you even say: I’m Chinese, but I grew up in America. What if I’m a fraud?

    Why is that such a theme for you?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Because, in a lot of ways, I feel like this generation of Asian-Americans are frontiersmen.

    We’re the first generation, a lot of times, that’s been born here and has to deal with not growing up in your ancestral homeland or something close to it and trying to reconcile that. And because you don’t have role models, because you don’t have people, you know, that have done it before you, there’s a bit of fear.

    There’s a bit of like, am I doing this right? Am I a fraud? And I think it is one of those essential questions that every Asian-American kid this generation asks themselves.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Where do you see the portrayal of Asian-Americans in popular culture in the media today? Has that improved?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    I think that we’re finally starting to ask very important questions about accuracy, authenticity, and specificity.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You’re a writer, cook, television personality, I guess. How do you — how do you define yourself these days?

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    yes, I tell people a lot like I really love Emerson’s “American Scholar.” I learned a lot from it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • EDDIE HUANG:

    Yes.

    And I remember he said, you’re not a farmer, you’re a man farming. And so I have never allowed people to identify me as, you’re a chef, or you’re a writer, or you’re a host. Let’s not pigeonhole me. And I hope other people will do that as well for themselves, because you’re much more than just the things that you do, much more than just the work, you know?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    From Baohaus in Lower Manhattan, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”

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