Eddie Huang: “I never wanted to sell baos”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

US chef Eddie Huang on his BAOHAUS residency at Neighborhood in Islington

Related tags Eddie Huang BAOHAUS Taiwanese cuisine BAO Dan Warne Neighborhood Islington

The high-profile cultural commentator, filmmaker and chef on St John, his VICE food documentary series Huang’s World and bringing his BAOHAUS brand to the UK.

How similar is the recently opened BAOHAUS residency at Neighborhood​ to the New York original?

BAOHAUS was a tiny site. It was like a Taiwanese pizza shop or taco stand. We had five or so items. Another operator told me early on that the sidewalk is free. You want people to line up outside, you don’t need a big space. That’s been the model, but my dream has always been to do a full-service restaurant with a bar and extend the menu to give people a complete dining experience. I also want to show people that there is more to Taiwanese food than bao. I don’t really like baos that much. I eat everything on rice. What I loved about Dan (Warne, the founder and CEO of the Islington site’s operator Sessions) is that he said he liked the rice better. I liked that he had the confidence and courage to say that without knowing what I would say. I think this food is best on rice. I never wanted to sell baos. I sold baos because David Chang was doing them and I wanted people to know they were from Taiwan. And I saw he was successful. White people like fucking bread.

What’s on the menu?

The menu is still tight, we have around eight dishes. BAOHAUS takes you on a tour of the flavours of the Taiwanese pantry but there are some Chinese influences too (Huang's nationality is Taiwanese but his ethnicity is Chinese). For example, our signature dish is the Chairman Bao. My innovation is that I red-cook the pork Hunan-style (in Taiwan pork for bao is traditionally brown-braised). My grandmother on my dad’s side is from Hunan, she taught me how to make it. But my favourite dish on the BAOHAUS menu is probably the minced pork stew, which we serve over rice. It’s a very simple dish flavoured only with fried shallots, mushrooms, dried shrimp, soy sauce and a little rock candy. Less is more. The more familiar you are with a cuisine the more confident you are to take ingredients out of your dishes.

Where else are you planning to eat while in the UK?

I like St John. It’s simple food cooked well, what needs to be there is there. I like to smuggle the madeleines back to the US with me. I also went to the Guinea Grill (in Mayfair) because I wanted to try a beef Wellington. I thought it was phenomenal, much better than I expected. And they know how to take care of their Guinness. And Mangal 1 (in Dalston) is out of control, I love the adana kebab there.

What was the oddest situation you found yourself in while filming your VICE show Huang’s World?

It has got to be the Miami episode when I was on the Bang Bus in a porn shoot. We also fought white supremacists in Sicily and got tear gassed in Istanbul while eating boiled cabbage. There was some wild shit, it was a crazy show.  

What was the weirdest thing you ate?

The worst food I’ve ever had in my life was in Mongolia. Funnily enough, my favourite place I have ever been is the Gobi Desert. It’s beautiful and the people are great. But they didn’t get spices until the 90s so they are still figuring shit out. Eating a boiled sheep’s head and a sheep’s eye there was hands down the nastiest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. 

BAOHAUS closed its original site in New York due to Covid. What happened exactly?

BAOHAUS was cranking. We have made money every day it has been open. But during the pandemic the landlord kept sending us invoices for rent. I was like: ‘I’m not paying seven months of back rent not being open’. I also didn’t want to put our employees in danger. I had already left America for Taiwan as a result of the pandemic. It didn’t seem right for me to send employees into work if I myself didn’t even want to be in the country. We’re a 400sq ft restaurant. If it was a bigger place and we could have had distancing I would have felt better. But to put my dudes in a box breathing on each other felt like bad business. I told all my guys to sit it out and get unemployment. Around October 2020 I shut it down because I just did not see an end to the pandemic at that moment.

Could you see BAOHAUS returning to the US at some point? 

Absolutely. But I would like to return with this team, it’s one of the best I’ve worked with. It’s always just been me and my brother and the homies we trained. My team at BAOHAUS was phenomenal by the end but with this team we were able to crush it from day one. If I’m lucky the UK will be the new base for BAOHAUS. 

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