Eddie Huang: Chefs Using Social Media
Other chefs have a Twitter feed announcing daily specials. Eddie Huang has a blog he wields the way Wu-Tang Clan records an album, firing off in-your-face posts steeped in hip-hop lyricism that hit like an epic-chambered bong rip.
The National Restaurant Association reports that 55 percent of American chefs now use some form of social media. It's safe to say that nobody deploys it like Huang. On his blog, Fresh Off the Boat, the 29-year-old restaurant owner posts raw-edged, expletive-spiked revelations about being Asian in America, with a street-level take on New York's food life. And he's managed to parlay his social media skills into mainstream media opportunities: a memoir in the works for a subsidiary of Random House; a food and travel series for Cooking Channel in development.
Huang started blogging to chronicle the opening of BaoHaus, a basement Taiwanese-steamed-bun joint on the Lower East Side that he opened with his brother Evan in 2009. Soon, Fresh Off the Boat was getting national clicks when Huang started flaming a group of San Francisco restaurant consultants for naming their food truck Chairman Bao. Huang accused them of name-stealing his most popular steamed bun, vowing to sue the living crap out of dress-shirted white guys, whom he portrayed as corporate bloodsuckers. "Really," Huang blogged, "can you just name it Not-So Express Panda or some shit?"
The lawsuit went nowhere. Same with Huang's stunt inviting New Yorkers to guzzle banned Four Loko at his restaurant—he retreated after fearing it could lose him his liquor license. And Huang's semiambitious Taiwanese concept restaurant Xiao Ye went down in flames. No matter: Even Huang's fuck-ups make for blistering blog copy. —J.B.
You really found your voice through your blog and Twitter, reaching an audience who doesn't read mainstream food media. Has that surprised you?
There is definitely a lack of this content out there. All these downtown kids, people on the street: Dudes are like, "Yo, I read your blog." I'm trying to mobilize those people. A lot of us don't read food writing. Why would we listen to some person who didn't grow up eating Puerto Rican food write about a lechonera? That kind of writing is almost for outsiders and tourists, like, restaurant tourists who live in the city, cultural tourists. I'll say this about doing the blog: One of the coolest things is that obviously people in food can see there's a shift in the audience for food writing.
The voice on your blog is so consciously hip-hop, it's funny to hear your voice on the phone: You just sound like some regular thoughtful guy.
To be honest—and no offense at all—I talk with people from different races and cultures differently. My parents speak marginally good English, but I really didn't learn English at home; I learned listening to hip-hop. I'm gonna read books, but I'm never gonna give up my voice.