In 2009, Eddie Huang opened Baohaus, a Taiwanese bun shop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Huang said his attraction to cooking began with his mother. "She would taste something at a restaurant and be able to make it. And I think that gene or whatever my mom's magic is, it got passed to me." The secret to being able to recreate the magic? According to Huang, it's about paying attention. "When you're eating to pay attention, you know to savor it, think about it. And if you do that, you can probably make it again."
Huang isn't just an accomplished restaurateur — he's the author of the bestselling memoir-turned-sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. He's also practiced law, designed clothing, and appeared on cooking and travel shows — and now he's a feature film director of the semi-autobiographical Boogie. Talking to NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg, Huang said, at his heart, he's a storyteller. "I never wanted to be a chef. I cooked food because it was the place that Asian people could have narratives in this country," Huang said. "I'm meant to write, and I want to tell stories."
Within a few years of Fresh Off the Boat's publication, the book was adapted into an ABC sitcom. Huang was critical of the series when it premiered, describing it as "cornstarch television," and told Eisenberg he's only seen two episodes. Eventually, Huang came to appreciate certain aspects of the show, including the rise to fame of Constance Wu, who played Eddie's mother. "I could see her evolution, really owning her Asian identity and becoming one of our most powerful voices," he said.
Huang said his new film Boogie, in which marks his directorial debut, gives him an opportunity to adapt his own life story to the screen. "Boogie really is my version of Fresh Off the Boat if I was good at basketball," he said. It's a coming-of-age film about Alfred "Boogie" Chin, a talented high school basketball player from Flushing, Queens, dealing with the pressure of his parents' expectations.
For his Ask Me Another challenge, Huang played a round of "Is it a Panda?" The game was inspired by his self-identification as a "human panda." He explained, "I'm warm, I'm cuddly, I'm slightly overweight, but I do have claws. I'm Asiatic, and I do like a fibrous diet."
On tasting a dish and replicating it later
You know how, these days, when you use your GPS and you go somewhere, you probably can't remember it after? They just say left and right and, like when people give recipes I'm like, mm that's not great. But every bite you take is like walking to the store. And when i walk to a store, I can walk my way back. And I just tell people, remember each bite like it's walking to the store, and if you do that, you can probably walk your way back.
On how his film Boogie was inspired by his own life
I really took a lot of the feelings and stories and I said, "instead of making this about me, but what were the seminal moments in your experience coming of age as an Asian American male, that in many ways was informed by Black culture, inspired by Black culture, what were the really big lessons?" And I took those and made those the spine of the film, and you know, filled the rest of it in. For me the film can be boiled down to five or six scenes. And those were the scenes of my life that I wanted to take the viewer through.
On his NBA loyalties, growing up in Orlando
I was a Knick fan always because I was born in DC... Patrick Ewing was everything in DC. My first memories, my dad always carried a Georgetown Hoyas bag to the gym to play ball, like there was Hoyas stuff everywhere. And I remember seeing the posters in the grocery store. And then of course, Patrick played for the Knicks so I was a Knick fan. For a few years in Orlando, I was very excited to get Shaquille O'Neal. I would cheer for the Magic, but the Knicks were my team. When the Orlando Magic wouldn't re-sign Shaq, there was this big article saying "is he worth $100 million?" and it was a very racial thing. A lot of white people would call into the radio station like "he's not worth it, he just dunks a basketball, he just does that!" I'm like, which one of you guys can do that? Of any of you guys calling, how many of you can do what Shaq does? And when Shaq left, it just broke my heart, and I don't think I ever loved Orlando again.
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