Xiao Ye, the second restaurant from Baohaus chef/owner Eddie Huang, closed its doors for good in 2010. The Taiwanese late night spot featuring black walls decorated with photos of the owner taking bong hits served up such classically-named delicacies as Poontang Pot Sticker, Trade My Daughter For Fried Chicken and the ever subtle Robster Craws, which were no doubt as dericious as they sound.
Though the Xiao Ye party is over, the chef who catered to his bong-ripping fans by encrusting chicken with Cheetos and deep frying it, is anything but. His Lower East Side eatery, Baohaus, still makes some of the most innovative and delectable pork buns in town. His blog, Fresh off the Boat, which helped develop his maniacal fan base and usher him through the ranks of New York’s food hierarchy without any serious culinary training, is more entertaining than ever. There’s a book deal on the table, and a Food Network TV show in development. In a day in age when every up and coming chef with a knife fight story and a couple of fart jokes is pegged as the new Anthony Bourdain, Eddie might be the guy who is next in line for a legacy of his own.
MARC SANTO: You started as lawyer and now you’ve become a chef. How did that happen?
EDDIE HUANG: The culture of a law firm didn’t fit with me. Wearing a suit and tie and waking up at 9 a.m. just got old. Law firms own you and they don’t respect you or your life. I felt like I was wasting my life trying to earn dirty money. I love money but not to that extent. So, I quit to do stand-up comedy and was cast for a Food Network competition show. I ended up going to the finals and Guy Fieri pulled me aside and was like “Yo, we get 15,000 submissions every year and you’re really good at this. Nobody has the skills you have. You should really open a restaurant.” Two years later I opened BaoHaus and now I wake up at 1 p.m. and walk downstairs in my pajamas to go to work.
MARC: What is the inspiration behind BaoHaus?
EDDIE: I’m really into design and [the German design school/ movement] Bauhaus’ philosophies about minimalism and sustainability. I use sustainable and all-natural meat because, politically and humanely, it’s the right thing to do. I don’t agree with commodity meat so I won’t buy it. I’ve created an original environment at my restaurant. I don’t go to many Chinese restaurants that play the type of music we play. I have all types of people working here and I teach them to cook the way my mom taught me to cook. Nobody was doing Taiwanese food with Berkshire Pork, and I do everything from making the mustard relish to processing the peanuts myself. I braise with cherry cola, rock candy, Szechuan peppercorns and chili peppers, and it creates a fusion of Szechuan, Hunan and southern American cooking. I created a flavor profile that’s different yet true enough to the Chinese palate that it still gives the people from my culture what they expect from a dish.
MARC: You’re known for mixing bodega ingredients like Cheetos and cherry cola with quality ingredients. What do processed foods bring to the table?
EDDIE: I use a lot of these ingredients but it’s not a gimmick or some hipster thing I do to be ironic. It makes the food taste better. Chinese and Korean people will braise short ribs with dates to get a fruit finish, but I got a better finish with cherry cola, which Korean grandmothers have been marinating bulgogi with for years. It tenderizes the meat and gives it a fruit essence with a nice glaze. In the end, my food is Taiwanese street food, and in most Southeast Asian countries, street food is where the innovation is happening. In New York, most chefs making pork buns are doing something original with them, and there’s a lot of integrity and innovation happening. It’s really competitive and I do my best to bring different flavors and techniques to the conversation.
MARC: What do you think of New York food bloggers?
EDDIE: The New York food blog scene is wack. A lot of these bloggers think they’re going to quit their day jobs because they’re blogging a recipe a day from their bullshit-ass kitchen, teaching you how to make roasted potatoes with thyme. Every corny chick with a blog thinks she’s the next Rachel Ray. It’s ridiculous. Also, every Asian kid all of a sudden thinks they’re an expert on food, but these food blogs hurt the industry more than they help it. I think they should leave blogging to the professionals who know what the fuck they’re talking about. I love blogs like Eater, Serious Eats and Fork in the Road because there’s integrity and standards to them. These guys don’t come in and introduce themselves and ask for free shit. They understand restaurants and the amount of work that goes into operating one, but most of these other bloggers are just straight up rude. I opened a restaurant to serve people, not for you to come in and shit on everything.
MARC: What’s the best trend happening in New York food?
EDDIE: Pop-up restaurants are probably the best trend happening at the moment. They’re short-lived restaurants that are usually seasonal and last for three months. When you’re thinking long-term with a restaurant, you have to think about how sustainable the concept is, but with a pop-up all you have to think about is if it’s going to get fannies in the seat for the first three months, and this allows the chef to do something more exciting. Patrons may not want to experience the idea for 5 years, but they’ll totally support it for one summer, and as a chef that’s a license to get really creative, which is a definitely a dope thing.