June 22, 2011
|Photo by Michael Talalaev
Anyone following the career path of Eddie Huang (Class of 2004) since graduating from Rollins is bound to find themselves feeling at least slightly disoriented. It’s a dizzying journey with highlights including attending the Cardozo School of Law, passing the New York Bar, the creation of his own clothing line, and the launch of his own restaurants. And while Huang’s is a story that is sure to be turned into a movie someday, for now it’s going to be told in his upcoming memoir, on track to be published by Random House in 2012. Fresh off the Boat, the working title for the book and also the name of Huang’s food blog, is said to be a "memoir of food, family and the Asian-American dream."
It’s a book that’s ruminated inside Huang since taking Associate Professor of English Jill Jones’s “Coming of Age” literature class. “I related so much to coming of age stories and that period of my life is my favorite. I knew after that class that I would write one,” Huang reminisced. The highly anticipated book will likely be just as revealing and equally as self-effacing and funny as his blog. Huang has many sides—chef, troublemaker, social media guru, entrepreneur—all of which he’s unapologetically comfortable with. Some of these roles, as Professor of English Bill Boles reminisces, also make him easy to underestimate, though that would be a mistake.
“Eddie puts on a role of the slacker, bullshitter, instigator, but he is incredibly smart and incredibly driven and incredibly talented,” Boles shared. “He has never been one to underestimate himself and what he is doing now will pale in comparison to what he ends up doing in the future.”
Huang has kept in touch with his former professor through the years, even allowing Boles to read 50 pages of his upcoming book. “It is quite fresh and so … so … so Eddie. A fun read and a smart book.”
By Kristen Manieri
An article in TIME Magazine described you as having a compelling ability to communicate who you are to the world. How accurate is that description and how do you think you came by this quality?
Ya, I'd say it's accurate. I don't know how I got it, but I was always telling jokes. In elementary school, we'd all crack on each other and whoever had the best jokes was the man. I really think that's where it comes from. I think the smartest choice I made was that when I started writing, I never changed my voice. I stuck to being that same 12-year-old kid cracking jokes at the basketball court.
So, you never went to formal cooking school, how did you learn? Who first lit the spark for you?
I never went to cooking school. I learned everything from my mom and a few cookbooks my brother bought me when he worked at Barnes and Noble. I don't use recipes, but I read books for technique and then test it out. My mom worked so I started cooking when she was late coming home and needed me to get things started. From there, I just wanted to learn how to make everything she did so we never lost our culture. That was important to me. I saw that Chinese culture was fading in America and I never wanted to forget where we came from.
What did you study at Rollins?
Everything... I always thought it made no sense to "major" in things. To be honest, no one is going to become an expert economist, sociologist or anthropologist from undergrad. It's still a time for exploration. The higher education system doesn't make much sense to me. People should be able to create more interdisciplinary degrees. Especially with the internet and mixed media, lines are very blurred and education should mirror that. I was very interested in sociology, Asian studies, film and English. I ended up majoring in English just because I liked those professors best. I also felt like if you develop the ability to read critically, you can learn anything on your own. That's why I chose it. I also minored in film ‘cause I wanted to get credits for watching The Royal Tenenbaums.
Who were your favorite professors at Rollins?
Dr. Boles, Dr. O'Sullivan, Dr. Jones and Dr. Henton, I still talk to frequently. I wouldn't be who I am without the faculty at old Orlando Hall. They really turned my life around.
You obviously have a strong handle on the place where social media and restaurateuring connect? How has social media impacted the restaurant world?
Social media has impacted everything; you can circumvent the traditional channels of communication and it's great. I think it's going to affect literature, writing and communication in ways that people don't even see. Ten years ago, someone who wrote and talked like me would never get published. I'm a potty mouth. It's still taboo for most outlets but the internet is an equalizer. People who I may not even know relate to me and are able to read my stuff. We are able to see how similar we all are as opposed to how different. It's very strange that in every genre of writing there's like a "right way" or "normal" way to write or a familiar voice. I think people just need to be the individuals that they are and wild out. Social media supports that.
Your blog, Fresh off the Boat, has garnered a huge following. Most people consider it a ‘food blog’ but I just read an entry all about the Miami Heat. What’s the mission of your blog and what does it mean to you as an outlet for your musings?
There really isn't a mission to the blog. I just write when I have something to say or a good joke to tell.
Through your blog postings, your relationship with your mom seems unabashedly honest. What’s it like having a ‘tell it like it is’ mom and how has that relationship helped you in life and in business?
My mom is crazy, but I love her. She's my biggest fan, critic, and pain in the ass. She actually talks to my brothers a lot more than me because I don't pick up the phone, but I'm still on her family plan so when it's time to pay the bills, I call. She knows that for that week, I will call every day and tell her everything going on in my life and then go off the grid once the bill is paid. It's kind of hilarious and honest. We love each other, but if I give her too much slack, she will try to take over my life. She has an opinion about everything. Literally, she sends me e-mails telling me what to eat, who to date, where to go, etc. I mean, I can easily pay my own phone bill, but she knows it's the only way I'm going to pick up the phone.
What are the plans for your next restaurant?
We'll probably do another unit in New York this year and two more in undisclosed locations. Hope we can make an announcement soon.