Eddie Huang Part 2: Asian Food Stereotyping, Momofuku, and the Cock Sauce Frat Boy Mentality
Yesterday, we spoke with Baohaus' Eddie Huang about everything from gua bao and Yelpers to Kenny Shopsin and Orlando, Florida. Today, we bring you the second half of our interview with Huang, in which he holds forth on subjects as diverse as Momofuku, his worst customer interaction, Asian food stereotyping, and the frat boy mentality surrounding spicy food.
Tasty Chomps Baohaus's Eddie Huang.
Can you talk a bit more about the blog post you wrote about wanting to discourage Yelpers and certain customers from coming back to Baohaus, and about some of the businesses that you feel are destroying the Lower East Side?
The guy [Daniel Maurer] at Grub Street wrote a post that was like, "Eddie Huang hates his customers." But I have a really great core following that I love. I see them at the gym, see them walking their dogs. I like them and genuinely care about them. I don't feel like my job is done after I sell you the bun. I didn't mean for that to rhyme, but you should have a responsibility to the community. You shouldn't destroy the fucking block.
After some customers complained, I paid $15,000 for a hood vent; I listen to everything people say. With [the Grub Street post], it pisses me off when somebody's being dishonest. I can't win a battle if you're not going to be reasonable. They should be more responsible in understanding the context of what I said. When I saw these customers on weekends, they'd suck. There is a problem in the Lower East Side where people are losing their neighborhood -- as someone from Florida, I see how beautiful this place is. The first apartment I had in 2005 was on Orchard Street. I thought, this is a really cool neighborhood, and then Libation came and it was over...I don't want to become the guy who hates on stuff because I really do love a lot of things. It's not about the Lacoste shirts or stereotyping people. I think that was the mistake I made, stereotyping people, but people from the outside come in and treat everyone here like we work for them, and we don't.
What's the worst interaction you've had with a customer?
The worst one was the lady from the West Village. She was a very, very uppity lady. I
didn't know she was pregnant; she didn't look it...She said, "Do you have a bathroom?" We do have one, but legally, we're not allowed to let people use it -- they can't walk through the kitchen because it's against code. But this is the mistake of being honest. I told her we do have a bathroom, but we can't let people use it, and she says, "You're going to tell a pregnant woman she can't use the bathroom?" I told her that I would tell any woman, but unfortunately I'm telling a pregnant woman you can't use it, and you should bring it up with Mayor Bloomberg. She said, "Are you being smart with me?" and threw her hot tea on me and said, "This is bullshit service, what kind of fucking restaurant doesn't have a bathroom?"...She left, and her husband nodded "sorry" at me, and I'm, like, standing here with hot tea all over myself in the middle of service...There's a strange sense of entitlement to the food.
My dad's favorite restaurant in Taiwan growing up was this little old guy who'd rigged up a hot dog truck to sell this kind of Taiwanese chicken noodle soup. He had a bunch of bowls, and once his bowls were done, he was done. He didn't wash his bowls, but said if you want a bowl, wash it and bring it back -- if you want the food, help me out. It's a great story, but it wouldn't fly here because there's a feeling that the customer is always right. I think people would enjoy it a lot more and get better food at more reasonable prices if they didn't treat us like slaves.
Speaking of prices, you've written about how everyone expects Asian food to be cheap, but don't hesitate to pay $3 for a cupcake, which costs very little to make.
Melissa's Cupcakes, that's highway robbery, the worst deal in the city -- you pay $1 for a cupcake the size of your thumb. I think [the expectation of cheap Asian food] is a stereotype -- it's not even a racial thing. In every culture you have to deal with these stereotypes and expectations. Part of breaking it is to support people like myself who are breaking the mold. I'm selling Niman Ranch pork. You don't have to go to Momofuku to get it, you have it below Houston and I'm going to charge you a dollar less than them and it's probably better. I don't know if I should say that, but I'm being honest.