Restaurateur, raconteur and Fresh Off the Boat author Eddie Huang talks about selling weed, hotboxing his bun shop, and what he’ll do when pot is legal in New York.
By Elise McDonough
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of High Times
Some people just don’t give a fuck. Like notorious restaurateur and best-selling author Eddie Huang, who loves smoking weed and doesn’t care who knows it.
In his hilarious, at times confrontational, new memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, Huang recounts his experiences growing up Chinese in South Florida, where he rejected mac-and-cheese and white-bread assimilation in favor of his mom’s “stinky Taiwanese lunches” and 2Pac. And, oh yeah, long before he made it big in the food biz, Huang sold ganja to get over, an experience he credits with imparting valuable business skills that paid off big time later in life.
“Word of mouth is so important to every business, but especially with weed,” he explained to High Times during a particularly smoky stop on his book publicity tour. “You need to develop a customer base and make people loyal to you. It’s super-personal.” Motivating employees, managing inventory and conducting market research were other skills honed while hustling herb in the Baked Apple. Huang recalls that the dankest Sour Diesel would go for big bucks in Brooklyn, while Manhattanites always wanted “super-exotic shit like LA Confidential” and “Queens would smoke anything.” Asked about his personal head stash, he says he’ll happily smoke “Headband and a few other things that I really like, but Sour is my shit …. I used to get it directly from someone who was growing it. My shit was fluffy and sticky and it just moved!”
Eddie relaxing poolside with a jar of the dank. Photo by Lochfoot
In addition to stints as a dealer in weed, sneakers and street wear, Huang also found time for a felony arrest, law school and a “lost year” spent working as an attorney before returning to his first love—food—by opening an authentic Chinese street-food restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side. Ever since 2009, when Baohaus first began selling spicy pork buns and other dishes passed down from his mother and grandmother, Huang’s outlaw antics and bold flavors have made him a favorite among food bloggers, while his unique perspective on the immigrant experience earned him a 2013 TED fellowship (later rescinded after he skipped out on some panel discussions to shoot a podcast with porn star Asa Akira).
An inveterate risk-taker, Huang actually lost his restaurant Xiao Ye in 2010 after defiantly selling the newly prohibited caffeinated malt liquor Four Loko. He’s just lucky that no cops came looking for steamed buns on the night that he and some friends spontaneously hotboxed Baohaus after a night of partying.
“Everybody already knows the main points about marijuana: that cigarettes are worse for you, alcohol is worse for you, and if you’re going to allow those things, there’s really not a legal high ground to stand on for why marijuana should not be legal.”
“We had customers there, and I was like, ‘I don’t give a fuck, because this is my restaurant.’ So I leaned over to the people sitting next to me and said, ‘Yo, do you guys mind if we smoke weed in the restaurant?’ And they’re like, ‘Can we smoke too?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ That’s when I knew that I had customers I liked, you know, and so we lit it up and locked the door. People kept knocking because they wanted to come in and eat, and we’d open the door periodically and say, ‘Yo, you can get it to go or you can stay and smoke weed.’ And people were like, ‘Let’s stay and smoke weed,’ and before you knew it the restaurant was fucking full of people!”
Huang may be just a little ahead of his time when it comes to legalization (at least in New York), but he’s sure it’s the right thing to do, and he’s ready to get involved.
“Everybody already knows the main points about marijuana: that cigarettes are worse for you, alcohol is worse for you, and if you’re going to allow those things, there’s really not a legal high ground to stand on for why marijuana should not be legal. Especially since it actually has benefits that those other things don’t have. I don’t think anyone’s glaucoma has gotten better from drinking beer.”
New York State has legislation pending that would allow the use of medical marijuana, and if it passes, Huang says he’s interested in starting a marijuana edibles line or a hip cannabis-infused ice-cream parlor/dispensary. “If you make ice cream with brownie chunks in the weed butter, that would be amazing!” he says. “I can’t wait for it to be legalized in New York.”
Naturally, running a restaurant, writing books, tweeting nonstop, and hosting a food-and-travel show on Vice.com can leave him pretty tense sometimes, but he balances all of these endeavors with a healthy habit: using cannabis as a way to relieve stress and reflect on the day’s activities.
“I smoke weed every day. If I don’t have much to do, I get high during the day, but usually I smoke around 7:30, 8 p.m. to unwind. Really, that’s my time to marinate and go through things step by step. It’s an essential part of my day.”
Besides helping him to flourish in a fast-paced lifestyle, Huang also credits cannabis as the catalyst for new recipes, explaining: “You know, I do discover a lot of flavor combinations when I’m high that I normally wouldn’t. There are things that I will come up with, especially with our desserts—like my bread pudding that I make with baos [a traditional Chinese steamed dumpling]. I was high when I thought of that, because I wanted bread pudding for the next day and I didn’t have bread, so I used baos.
“I think a lot of ideas for the dishes that I come up with happen when I’m high …. I have this recipe document on Google, and anytime I’m high, I’ll have it open when I’m at the crib, and I just start plugging things in because I know that I’m going to get ideas. When you’re high, you wanna think about food. I think about food and I think about sex, and that’s pretty much it when I’m high …. I just wanna eat gummy bears and get a blow job.”
Check out the complete, unedited interview with Eddie Huang on hightimes.com