Eddie Huang is first and foremost a gifted storyteller. As a chef, I think he’s arguably best when his story is told through his food items at Baohaus, which is Huang’s teeny urban-influenced Taiwanese eatery in Manhattan’s East Village. As a TV personality, Huang’s story is told through the episodic lens of his Vice web series “Fresh Off the Boat,” which is the derogatory phrase used to describe newly-arrived Asian immigrants. It’s a phrase Huang adapted early on when he was a budding entrepreneur, owning up to it (or owning it up for his parents), similar to what other oppressed sub-cultures have done before him. Most recently, Huang took that same phrase “Fresh Off the Boat” and made it the apt title of his first published book, a memoir where he tells a story (in actual words this time) about his first-generation Asian-American experience.
Maybe because I also happen to be a first-generation Asian-American (and not much younger than Huang), I couldn’t help but compare and contrast our upbringings. And at the end, I felt like his life’s tale was actually universal more than anything. These recurring themes of “traditional family values” and “independent thinking” and “breaking away from what’s expected of you” are not exclusive to the Asian-American experience. Rather, they’re highly relatable. It feels as though Huang instills a very intentional agenda of encouraging readers, especially those of minorities, to break a lot of rules and follow their dreams anyway. Fine. But actually what I took away as Huang’s best moments were when he describes his memories of eating his favorite foods as a child, cooking and experimenting with ingredients as he got older, and then finally celebrating the joys of getting dishes so perfectly that even his dead ancestors would be proud. You might as well be right there next to Huang in the kitchen. Food, after all, is Huang’s forte. Huang is also seamless with weaving in Taiwanese and slang wordplay throughout his memoir a la Junot Diaz, which worked out perfectly for what Huang set out to do—tell his story where his voice is uncompromised, while paying proper respects and honor to his heritage.