8:49pm PT by Rebecca Sun
Eddie Huang on 'Fresh Off the Boat': "I Don't Watch It, But I'm Proud of It"
Eddie Huang's first memoir, 2013's Fresh Off the Boat, was a New York Times best-seller, earned rave reviews from critics and spawned the first Asian-American broadcast show in 20 years, which ABC has renewed for a third season. At the same time, his popular Vice food and travel show Huang's World (formerly titled Fresh Off the Boat) was helping to turn Huang into one of the top food personalities of the current generation.
Having built so much of his identity on resistance — struggling to reconcile the expectations of his Chinese-Taiwanese heritage with his attraction to hip-hop culture — Huang, who started his career in law and then dabbled in stand-up comedy and pot dealing before finding his calling with the opening of his New York City restaurant, Baohaus, abruptly found himself at a loss.
"All of a sudden, I was accepted. I wasn't fighting as an underdog anymore," said Huang, speaking last Thursday at Little Tokyo's Aratani Theatre to promote the May 31 release of his sophomore memoir, Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China. The event, part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles' ALOUD series, was a conversation with Constance Wu (who plays the TV version of his mother on the ABC sitcom), who asked him if the success was unnerving.
"I'm not used to not having a chip on my shoulder," said Huang, adding that he was nervous about his literary follow-up ("Outkast was the only group with a good second album"). "This book was about allowing yourself to be loved."
The pairing of Huang with Wu was perhaps surprising for those who know that the restaurateur has publicly disavowed the show inspired by his childhood, essentially calling it a bowdlerized version of his life. But there was nothing but affirmation at the Aratani between the two, who hail from similar backgrounds (first-generation Taiwanese-Americans who grew up in northern Virginia during the 1980s) and are friends.
"You and I both got an education in the network and studio system, which wanted you for your non-compliant voice," Wu told Huang. "And once they got your life story, the dominant culture tried to mold you."
For his part, Huang doesn't begrudge the continuing existence of the sitcom. "It's a gateway [to Asian-American culture]," he responded to Wu. "I don't watch it, but I'm proud of what it does."
Double Cup Love traces Huang's summer 2013 pilgrimage to China, curious about how his cooking would hold up in the motherland and what his life might have been like had his family never left. The experience left him with a crystallized sense of self-acceptance and purpose: "It's a privilege to be born in America, and it's not enough to sit around and feel bad [about it]. Diversity of voice is extremely important, and I want to kick down as many doors as possible."
Huang is now at work with his editor, Spiegel and Grau's Chris Jackson (who edited Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me), on his third book, which he says will be fictional this time. "This is probably the end of me talking about my personal story," he said, calling the new book his imagining of "the next great hip-hop album that the game needs. Ten chapters, every one a song."