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Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir

Celebrity chef Eddie Huang's memoir offers a hilariously unflinching look at the American dream from a 21st-century immigrant's perspective.

By Contributor / February 5, 2013

"Fresh Off the Boat" by Eddie Huang Random House 288 pp.

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Eddie Huang talks with his mouth full. In his passionate, articulate, and totally full-of-himself memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, the outspoken chef and restaurateur graphs his evolution as a cook, finding a way to relate every life experience to food. Like the Tupac Shakur poem “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” Huang has come through trials to success. "Fresh Off the Boat" is a deeply personal and unflinching look at both the thorns and blossoms of his life to date. Be forewarned, this book doesn’t hold anything back and contains strong language and graphic detail.

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With a writing style influenced by Jonathan Swift, Lao Tzu, and Ghostface Killah, Huang uses hip-hop/rap vernacular – often perceived as ignorant, arrogant and shallow – to craft a passionate and articulate memoir. Boy’s got that ethos, logos, and pathos on lockdown. He has brought hip-hop culture from the rap scene to the kitchen.

As Huang tells it, he’s spent his whole life striving for authenticity – in himself and in his food. “My food was, is, and always will be ill.” He evolves as a cook, moving from work as a young expediter in his father’s restaurant on to food experiences in Pittsburgh and his parents' native Taiwan. He lands a gig as an amateur chef competing on the food network, and finally goes on to open his critically acclaimed “Baohaus” sandwich shop on the Lower East Side of New York. His life story weaves big themes of racism, assimilation, abuse, violence, drug use, materialism, basketball, and humor together. 

As a boy, he found he related to the '90s hip-hop/rap scene through the pain in his own life. As a fiend for food, he also found solace in good cooking wherever it could be found. Orlando, Fla., the land where dreams go to sell out, was a tough place to grow up. He and his friends had lots of money, lots of time, and got into lots of trouble. Watching him grow up from a punk kid to somewhat-less-of-a-punk adult is sometimes painful to witness, but the journey is rewarding. "As a kid trying to maintain my identity in America.... I could taste something one time and make it myself at home. When everything else fell apart and I didn't know who I was, food brought me back."

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