BaoHaus celebrity chef Huang (Fresh Off the Boat, 2012) returns with a fresh mélange of hip-hop patter, Chengdu street cuisine, and Asian-American identity politics.
Can a politically charged, wildly successful chef find love and happiness in the new millennium? The author was determined to find out after bumping into Dena at a popular bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But before he could take that leap into the foreign land of commitment, he decided that he had to address something else that had been eating at him for a while. Sure, he has been able to conquer hipster palates with his Taiwanese steamed buns, but what Huang truly hungers to know is what Chinese people living in the homeland think of his cooking: “I’m Chinese, but I grew up in America. What if I’m a fraud?” With his romance with Dena still blossoming, Huang corralled his brothers and headed for China. His initial impression of the city of Chengdu isn’t necessarily appetizing, but it’s vivid: “a disgusting mummy lair accented with a touch of pre–Cory Booker Newark, neatly encased in a delicious cocoon of coal smog…the views are so spectacularly putrid that it makes West Philly feel like Queen Anne’s world.” Huang possesses a fiery descriptive flair capable of splicing disparate cultural references with the acuity of a yakitori grill master: “Paris’ll put you to bed with butter and burgundy; Houston’ll drip it up in au jus and drape it out with horseradish; and Chengdu’ll set your mouth on fire, then extinguish it with Newport [cigarettes] guts.” The lingo is dense and can veer wildly from delicate descriptions of the author’s all-time culinary favorites to his decidedly eccentric bathroom habits. But when he reaches full boil, Huang’s exchanges between family and friends can be laugh-out-loud funny. Once fully communed with his Chinese roots, Huang realized that he needed Dena by his side, and what began in Brooklyn finally came to fruition in China.
A challenging author continues to bravely bare his soul along with his best dishes.