Digging in With Superchef Eddie Huang — From Glutamates to Racism
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because violence needs a productive outlet.
By Daniel Malloy
The gold chains and orange baggy pants are your first indications that Eddie Huang is not giving your typical cooking lesson at OZY Fest. The host of “Huang’s World” on Vice and author of the memoir Fresh Off the Boat, now an ABC sitcom, is cooking up Hainan lobster. But it’s his fashion that inspires as much crowd banter as the food. Huang compliments an audience member on his outfit — “I fuck with the overalls” — before adding that his partner doesn’t let him wear overalls. When asked for a selfie, Huang hams it up with a kitchen knife.
But his technical prowess cannot be denied. New York’s foodies are grateful that the owner of Baohaus ditched law for cooking — comedy didn’t pan out either — and is fluent in the necessity of glutamates when cooking mushrooms or seafood, and why the oil must be between 225 and 250 degrees. Huang sat down with OZY to talk about trends in food, what he does to blow off steam and why it’s better to engage with racists than banish them. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Who are the rising stars in food that we should be looking out for?
Tom Cunanan at Bad Saint in D.C. is probably my favorite young chef. And then there’s Deuki Hong [former executive chef of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong and OZY Fest presenter].
What I like is they’re staying very loyal to the flavors of their youth and their history, but they’re refining their own personal techniques. And they don’t feel this need to, like, make it fusion or refine the dish. It’s the technique. Do you know what I mean? They’re sharpening their own skills, but the flavors are there. And they’re finding new ways to transport these flavors that are part of all of our history and heritage.
I choose to be violent in the gym, so I don’t have to be violent outside it.
Every time a new team member joins OZY, he or she has to tell the rest of the staff a fun fact. What’s yours?
I box every day. That’s my favorite hobby, boxing. I feel like violence is ever present in life and in the world, and I think it is a part of life that society has kind of distorted and told us has been removed. But you can be violent with language. You can be violent with emotions. I choose to be violent in the gym, so I don’t have to be violent outside it.
Does it work?
Yeah, I’m really happy. I think my body likes the physicality of it. And I think everyone has to figure out where to put the violence in their lives. Because it’s around.
Do you think we’re just too sanitized as a culture?
Oh, yeah. I mean you have these moments when you get angry at work. You get angry, you get worked up. I’m sure people are worked up about the election. Where do you put those feelings? Where do you put that anger? And, like, I think to be familiar with violence and physicality on a daily basis is very healthy. It allows me to maintain balance.
This fall our show, Third Rail With OZY (PBS), tackles topics people usually avoid. What are we avoiding that we should be discussing?
This happens a lot with parents or grandparents, but, like, a lot of times when someone from the older generation says something that’s a little bit ignorant, off-color or prejudiced, they go, “That’s just them. They’re racist or they’re homophobic or they’re closed-minded.” Listen, I don’t like the culture of — you said it, you’re fired. Do you know what I mean?
Steve Harvey said something about Asian-Americans — especially Asian-American men — that I found very insulting and heartbreaking. I wasn’t out there, like, “Fire this man.” Let’s talk about it. If you want to watch his show despite what he said, go watch his show. I ain’t watching his show, and I’m not supporting him.
I don’t like it when somebody says something ignorant or racist and it’s immediately, “Fire him.” No. Let’s use this as a teaching moment. I’m not into punitive punishment. I’m into rehabilitative punishment. I learned that from law school and the Red Hook [Community] Justice Center [in Brooklyn]. We should be rehabilitating people physically. We should be rehabilitating people psychologically, so they can be better members of our community. So if people say something ignorant or racist, dude, let me talk to you about it.
OZY reporter James Watkins contributed to this story.