If you went to law school but left the legal life behind to work in late-night restaurants, star in television shows and write books, what do you tell people you do? If your parents were born in Taiwan, you grew up in Orlando listening to hip-hop, and now own a restaurant in New York, where are you from? Eddie Huang’s story is all about the intersections, the places where simplified titles like “celebrity chef” just don’t work.
Huang is the owner of Baohaus, a tiny joint that serves up gua bao (pork belly buns) late into the night in New York’s East Village, but it is a safe bet at this point that people know his face and stories more than his food. Huang’s first memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat,” was adapted into an ABC sitcom, now in its third season. He travels the world chasing culinary adventures in “Huang’s World,” a documentary series for the Viceland network.
Huang’s latest, “Douple Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China,” is ostensibly about Huang’s trip to China, where he traveled to cook and better understand his roots. Another celebrity chef type might tell this story as a survey of regional Chinese cuisine, an analytical examination of tradition and appropriation, but this is a memoir of looking for love and oneself, not a reference book.
Huang likes to tell comic anecdotes, silly stories about himself, his hard-partying friends, bad dates and ex-girlfriends, but he’s constantly aiming at bigger insights. He understands the ways that food can be a gateway to our interior lives. When he occasionally lets down the cool guy act, he says things like, “When it’s done really well, [food]’s the perfect manifestation of existence. I mean, what else in the world literally sustains us and represents us all at the same time?”
The result is something like “Sex and the City” for bro-chefs, dudes trying to figure out their love lives between kitchen disasters, late-night parties, OKCupid dates, plates of red-cooked pork and codeine-laced cocktails. (The “double cup” of the title takes its name from the popular combination of cough syrup and Sprite.) Unlike the glaring whiteness of Carrie Bradshaw, Huang navigates this story with his eye on the complex lens of cultural identity, the myriad lines of race, nationality, family and manners. Don’t think he’s just telling funny stories, even if they are very funny.
Huang has a knack for dialogue. He and his friends throw profane, rapid-fire barbs back and forth that would be highly quotable if this weren’t a family newspaper. Huang drops in clever footnotes, which help with a web of cultural references that range from Jeezy lyrics to the finer points of dan-dan mien. It’s a fascinating trip, filled with plenty of food and anecdote, but, in the end, Huang is just leading us down a road to himself.
Eddie Huang book signing. 7 p.m., June 17. SCADshow, 173 14th St. N.E., Atlanta. $29, includes a signed copy of “Douple Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China.” 404-253-2740, scadshow.com .