He’s a hip-hop Taiwanese foodie, a chef with a law degree, and an entrepreneur with his own sitcom and book. Oh, he’s also dabbled in dealing drugs. Eddie Huang’s career has been anything but conventional. He came to redefine the stuffy world of food connoisseurs and remolded it into a hip-hop chic everyday man’s fodder with attitude and gravitas to boot. Let’s take a look into the crazy world of Eddie Huang and his success.
Born to Taiwanese immigrants in Washington D.C. – and no matter how I spin this sh*t, I don’t think I’ll do the man justice. Just think of the contrast that a first generation Taiwanese immigrant child experienced growing up in the most American place in the world: the seat of the U.S. government. Of course, his family moved later on to the south of the United States – the most ’Merican place in the world.
From Lawyer to Pusher and Back
After being awarded his B.A. from the University of Pittsburg he followed up his academic career with a doctoral graduate law degree from Cardozo School of Law. He later on got a job as an associate at Chadbourne & Parke. But if you have a belly full of fire, a stuffy suit job won’t do. The catalyst came when Eddie was laid –off from the law firm and delved into standup comedy and small time pot dealing. I guess you could say he had a high-er calling. (OK please pelt me with stones after I finish this article, I still need to finish it to get paid).
On Christmas Eve of 2009, Huang opened his now famous restaurant BaoHaus. The restaurant was launched with just five menu items based on homemade Taiwanese buns. In an underground 400-squarefoot space with only five menu items, Huang created an extremely successful business. His motivation wasn’t just to give people Taiwanese comfort food, but to also use his menu to redefine what people thought when they hear ‘Taiwanese-Chinese cuisine’. He wanted the buns to not only drip delicious sauce down your chin, but to also share culture, immigration issues and politics. That’s some pretty sticky subject matter. (Again, refrain from the stoning until the end).
The Book and Sitcom
I was reading Huang’s interview on Vulture while researching this article, and I love how he referred to himself as a Chinkstronaut trying to pull away from society’s gravitational pull. I loved it not because of its racial connotations (well, you’ve got to admire someone who takes a negative racial slur and uses it as a term of endearment for himself), but because it fits him and it makes sense. He was an outsider even within his race. As a hip-hop fan, his ‘angry’ stance and voice made his book palatable like his buns (the edible ones, not the ones hanging out of his sagging pants). This is what distinguished him. He continues to do his own thing and get recognition for it.
Success with Tradition But Without Convention
Eddie Huang’s success actually comes from both tradition and non-convention. Just like most immigrants (I speak from experience). It’s alien and strange to grow up in a culture that is your own yet isn’t quite, and to be from a culture that you only know verbally. At the same time, you’re invisible to the mass culture except for your national stereotypes: “Oh, you’re Greek. Do you like lamb?” That’s not the only thing being Greek is about… but yes, I love lamb, you stereotyping jackass. Embracing who you are in full confidence will make people gravitate and listen to you, and once you have their attention you can tell them what you want and what you see is wrong. And, hopefully, how they can help you change that.
Are there any other Eddie Huang fans out there? Does the man himself, Mr. Huang, want to add anything to this? Let us know in the comment section below.