“Once you realize all of our identities have something to offer other people and there’s something to connect with, that’s when you really start to enjoy your family, your food, and your culture.”
Those are the words of someone who deeply cares about understanding the cultures of others and, I would argue, American culture at large. They were spoken by chef, writer, designer, and soon-to-be director Eddie Huang.
I caught up with Huang while he was promoting a new campaign with DoorDash. Huang partnered with the food delivery service to celebrate two things very close to his heart — the immigrant experience in America and eating all the pie on Thanksgiving. I, too, have an obsession with all things pie and Thanksgiving, so I jumped at the chance to speak with Huang about how the holiday informed his life as both a chef and as an American with a Chinese-Taiwanese migrant background.
The conversation that followed touched on the immigrant and Indigenous experience in 2019, that “they-who-must-not-be-named” Washington football team, and which aspects of Thanksgiving are worth carrying forward. Plus, there’s a rad recipe for a Chinese-inspired spatchcocked turkey waiting for you at the end!
It’s good, trust me I know turkey.
When you were growing up, what was Thanksgiving like in your house?
Well, growing up we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Then around freshman or sophomore year of high school, I started watching the Food Network, and I saw Emeril doing this recipe where he would poke holes into the turkey and stuff garlic cloves into it, and then rubbed it with like a mixture of rosemary, more garlic — he fucking loves garlic — oil, salt, black pepper. I saw him do it and I just copied Emeril’s turkey. Then, I copied how to make his stuffing.
After that, I was like, “I can’t think of my family not participating in this holiday?” While I really relate to Chinese culture — we always celebrated Chinese New Year and all the Chinese holidays — and our home was really, really Chinese, I saw this Thanksgiving holiday as something that I could bring.
Also, I was a big football fan because I’m from D.C. I was always a Washington football fan, even though it’s a terrible franchise with a terrible owner with a terrible name.
I always watched the Washington and Dallas game. They’d always play on Thanksgiving. I would see John Madden handing out turkey legs to people during the game and everybody eating turkey. I remember thinking, “this sucks that my family never participates in this, and I never get to eat this food.”
So I just made it when I was 14 or 15 and it was a success. Every year after that, I would cook Thanksgiving at home, and my mom would always cook Chinese food. I was her prep cook but I never got to do the Chinese dishes start to finish. But Thanksgiving was the one time where I got to take over the kitchen, and she didn’t get in my way because she didn’t know how to make those dishes.
That’s fascinating, man. It feels like the true sort of evolution of the immigration experience of leaving Taiwan and becoming an American where you were the bridge between the two places and cultures.
Yeah. I really took ownership of my identity here and Thanksgiving was a part of it. And, to be honest, I have been asking brands to cook Thanksgiving for like easily eight years. So when DoorDash came to me, I was super excited.
This is one of those times when you do something that is branded but, in your heart, it really means a lot to you. That’s ’cause Thanksgiving’s always been my holiday. It’s the thing that I can plug into in America and understand. And, really, I just love it as a holiday.
I don’t really buy into the story of pilgrims made friends with Native Americans. I’m very pro-Native rights. It’s the idea of an autumn festival, the idea of family coming together, eating a meal, being thankful, that really is beautiful to me.
I feel you. We can leave the propaganda aside and still celebrate natural cycles where the sun’s waning, the leaves are dying, and we need to bring in the feast and celebrate what we have with how we have. So how has DoorDash helped you get your message out there?
People always ask me, “what do you think is going to create change?” And I honestly do not think it’s government or political leaders that cause community change. They’re the last.
The change happens in the streets, right? The change happens culturally with people in their homes with their families in their community. And then, the next step is when the market recognizes that there is a way to make money on a cultural shift. And what we have here is a culture shift that has been created by immigrants like myself, like the Filipino families that I’ve seen do Thanksgiving, Jamaican families, Mexican families…
This is not intrinsic or special to me that I am a first-generation, second-generation, or whatever people define it as. I end up in America and decided to participate in American culture on Thanksgiving. And so DoorDash is being very, very smart and very, very supportive by saying, hey, let’s do this. Let’s talk and support this culture that is going on in these homes. And then hopefully, it can be absorbed politically, it can be absorbed in terms of government or whatever and things spring from it.
Then, maybe we can be more open-minded towards citizenship and global mobility in an immigrant light because, to me, that’s the best thing that could come out of multiple cultures coming together.
How do you think this translates in real-time to people at the table on Thanksgiving?
It would really mean a lot to me is if people saw these campaigns and started to share their food with their neighbors. If people were open-minded about their food crossing boundaries, then maybe they would be more open to people crossing boundaries and be more open to immigrant rights and global mobility. Because, I think one of the most unfair things is that people are either super, super privileged or super, super damned depending on where they’re born, which they have no say.
I feel that, man. My family comes from an Indian reservation, so I feel you. It’s rare we get invited to a table. So it’s great to see someone like you opening up a table for anyone.
Thanks, man. I mean, I’ve been to reservations and it’s really fucked up what’s happening out there, man.
If you ever need an Indian kid to come to your table, man, I’ll bring some wild steelhead salmon and some chefed-up Rice-A-Roni because that’s what we used to eat on Thanksgiving.
What are some of the foods you’ve been most surprised by over the years when you’ve sat down at Thanksgiving?
My friend Warren and his mom, Trista, would invite me over, and they would have udon bowls, chicken cacciatore, and green bean casserole. It always meant a lot to me and I even wrote about it in Fresh off the Boat. They were like the first American family that really opened up their hearts and minds at home to me.
What is the thing you’re most looking forward to this Thanksgiving weekend?
Well, listen, people really knock pumpkin pie, right? Or pumpkin anything and they’re like, “It’s basic bitch flavor!” And I’m like, “I fucking love pumpkin!”
I’m right there with you!
So, man, I get most excited about the pumpkin pie. But more than that, I just like to relax, lay around. I actually get along with my parents at this age, so I’m looking forward to hanging out with them and not having to do too much, eating some pumpkin pie, and celebrating that I got to a point in my life where I can hang out with my parents without wanting to kill myself.
Right on. I think we can all appreciated that feeling. Hey, man, Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanks, man! It was really nice to speak with you.