In his new memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat,” one thing is clear: Eddie Huang is honest. The owner of BaoHaus in the East Village in New York details with humor and at times unbelievable candor his experience as an Asian growing up in the United States (he was born in Washington, D.C., in 1982) and rising to celebrity chef status. Huang will be cooking at Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge on Boston’s waterfront Thursday for the first in a celebrity chef series hosted by Big Night Entertainment Group, also featuring its executive chef Kevin Long. Tickets are $50.
Q. How do you select the menu for an event like this?
A. I try to do different dishes for every event that I do. We’ve got a lot of dishes that I grew up eating with my family, so a lot of it is just trying to introduce people to Chinese food that isn’t on menus. Also I think the big thing with my cooking is I try to introduce people to the dishes we make at home or kind of older dishes. I don’t really use cookbooks but if I do, it’s usually stuff like “Pei Mei’s [Chinese Cook Books]” just to see what the older people used to do. I just try to do something new and just kind of let people in on what we do at home.
Q. You have quite a varied background: lawyer, stand-up comedian, author, blogger. How do you keep finding new avenues and outlets?
A. My thing has always been, I really enjoy talking about identity, culture, and race in America. It could be fashion — I used to do streetwear. It could be music — I used to write for music magazines. I used to write fantasy sports articles. I think my thing is I’m always watching the news and I always have my eyes open and when I see something I want to talk about, I just go talk about it. And I think the reason why I’m able to get involved in so many different mediums and art forms is I never see barriers, and if I feel like there’s a certain way to say something and it fits better on a T-shirt or on a plate or on a show, I just go for it. I really don’t overthink things.
Q. When you did stand-up, what was your material like?
A. Stand-up was funny, because it dealt with America and its fear. You know, I did this thing, like in the ’90s, we were scared of black people; in the 2000s, we were scared of Middle Eastern people; but trust me, in the ’10s, you’re going to be scared of Asians. I swear, you’re going to be scared of Asians, these delivery boys are going to go wild. At the time, there were a lot of very sad incidents like the Asian shooter at Virginia Tech and the Binghamton kid, but my set was more about identity and fear and how when something like that happens, it gets wiped away as “that guy is crazy” — when I really do feel like there are identity and mental health issues in this country. So I guess for a chef, doing stand-up like that a while back is just weird and different, but I watch the news and I see what’s going on around me and I always have something to say.
Q. What was the inspiration for “Fresh Off the Boat”?
A. Ever since I was 18, I just always wanted to write that book. Growing up in Orlando, Fla., I just didn’t feel like the America I was told existed existed. I never really fit in, never really liked living in a cul-de-sac, never really liked being the only Chinese kid around. I would watch TV and I could tell that the world was kind of black-and-white. There weren’t any Asian sitcoms to watch, there weren’t any Asian role models, and I was like, “I’m not going to wait for somebody to come along and maybe I have kids and they wind up with some other person [to look up to]. I’m going to write about my experience. I want to talk about what the Asian-in-America experience was for me.”
My goal with the book is really just to say Asians don’t belong in cubicles, Asians don’t have to be in offices, they don’t have to be under a bamboo ceiling. There are Asians on mountains, Asians in lakes, Asians in Uggs, Asians on rollerblades. You can be whatever you want to be. I think my life and my career is just an example. All I’m doing really is very simple. I’m writing about the things that I’ve done, I’m writing about my life. And hopefully it inspires other people whether you’re Asian, black, a white kid, a Latino kid, whatever. If you’re weird and different, I want to encourage you to not change. Be the weirdo that you are.