New memoir after Fresh Off The Boat

Eddie Huang training at Church Street Boxing Gym in New York.
Eddie Huang training at Church Street Boxing Gym in New York.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Eddie Huang details his quest for acceptance in latest work

NEW YORK • A few years ago, after Eddie Huang submitted the manuscript of his memoir Fresh Off The Boat, which made ample use of footnotes, his editor Chris Jackson asked him if he had read fellow footnoter Junot Diaz. He had not.

"I have real gaps in my literary history," Huang said recently, with his signature blend of self- deprecation and upstart bravado. "Number 1, I'm Chinese, and Number 2, I'm from Orlando. So help me, fam!"

He began with Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, but stopped after 100 pages, wowed and flummoxed.

"I didn't want to steal his moves."

He didn't return to it until he had completed the first draft of his new memoir, Double Cup Love: On The Trail Of Family, Food, And Broken Hearts In China (Spiegel & Grau), which was released yesterday .

"I was chasing him through the last eight revisions, asking myself, 'Does this give you feelings on that level that Oscar Wao gave you?' " he said. "I got as close as I could."

A lot of people are trying to actively contain my voice, like, ‘He doesn’t speak for us,’ and I’m like, ‘I won’t argue with you.’

EDDIE HUANG, on being at odds with Asian-Americans who feel his story is not an appropriate representation

It was coming up on midnight in New York when he said this, and he was wearing a jubilantly loud J.W. Anderson coat with fat horizontal stripes in varying shades of brown. It was cold out, and a few feet away was the Gilded Lily, the club where he was about to host a party with fashion designer Maxwell Osborne, of au courant duo Public School.

But before that, one last point.

"People always want to compare me to Tony," Huang added, referring to Anthony Bourdain, the modern prototype of chef turned acidic social commentator. "But I never read Kitchen Confidential. I read Oscar Wao."

Food is, as ever, a Trojan horse for Huang, who in the past five years has parlayed fame (and a little bit of infamy) as a chef into a career of pining, bomb-tossing and taunting - sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes bad-naturedly, sometimes both.

In addition to his two memoirs (his first was turned into an ABC sitcom), he has given a memorable TED talk (then had his TED fellowship rescinded over disagreements with the foundation); written the occasional scathing takedown article; been featured in a Sprite commercial; and hosted an Internet show about global food culture, which has morphed into the television show Huang's World on Viceland.

Throughout, hip-hop has been his framework and organising narrative. On the difference between his first memoir and the new one: "Fresh Off The Boat is a mixtape - the Cam'ron mixtape before Purple Haze; Double Cup Love is the album. I smoothed things out, I mixed it, I was surgical about it."

In Double Cup Love, Huang, 34, who was born in Falls Church, Virginia, near Washington, to Taiwanese immigrants, and raised in Orlando, Florida, details his parallel quests for acceptance: by China, and by a woman he fell for and eventually proposed to.

"I don't think I was ever able to be as close with someone as I was with her and I don't think I was ever as able to be comfortable with being Chinese as I was in Chengdu," he said.

Exclusion is a continuing theme of his work, and he often finds himself at odds, he said, with Asian-Americans who feel his story isn't appropriately representative. "A lot of people are trying to actively contain my voice, like, 'He doesn't speak for us,' and I'm like, 'I won't argue with you.' "

Often, he said, he speaks at colleges where the main question he's asked is, in essence, "How did you learn to love yourself?"

His writing is wry and zippy; he regards the world with an understanding of its absurdities and injustices and with a willingness to be surprised. The dark edge of Fresh Off The Boat is mostly gone in the new book, replaced with an acceptance of calm in his life.

Double Cup Love was originally proposed as a book in which Huang would travel to China to try cooking for locals, but it turned into a memoir about love.

Neither of his books is really about food - "it's all window dressing," he said.

He added: "When you live in a place where you are not the dominant culture, you have to play fools against themselves. You're going to assume I can (do) kungfu, you're going to assume I can cook food, and I'm going to play this against you."

Still, even if food is only the costume, it occupies a central role in his life. Before the party at the Gilded Lily, he had begun his evening cooking a private dinner for a music lawyer and some associates, including singer Florence Welch (of Florence And The Machine) and songwriterproducer Emile Haynie.

Huang began writing during high school as a reaction to hearing other students disparage hip-hop. It was "a call to arms", he said. "I decided I'll write about anything unfair."

Righting injustices remains a crux of his work. He devoted much of a recent Huang's World episode about Jamaica to the "new colonialism" caused by that nation's crippling debt and said he hoped to go to Kenya to learn more about one organisation's attempt to support a universal baseline income - a policy he described as "reparations for those who don't fit in".

The defining throughline of his public life has, until now, been a tug of war with authority.

But lately he's been wondering if his bomb-throwing days are coming to an end. "I'm not as much of an outsider now," he conceded. "People can make money off of me - I'm a proven commodity."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'New memoir after Fresh Off The Boat'. Print Edition | Subscribe