I knew from the first moment I walked into the Food Network studios that the shit was gonna be cornholio. My recipe was for Chairman Mao’s red cooked skirt steak over rice, but the network asked for something handheld. I didn’t get it and said that rice usually goes in a bowl. I mean, that’s pretty fucking handheld, but they didn’t go for it. So … I did what every culture does when Americans can’t understand something: I put it on bread. From bánh-mì to baos to arepas to Jamaican beef patties, it takes a little coco bread to make the medicine go down. Barack, I told you to put the health-care bill on some Red Lobster Cheddar biscuits, dun!
In the green room was Thalia Patillo, who was from the Bronx. She worked as a newscaster and was gonna make empanadas. There was this dude Dave, wearing a bright-yellow aloha shirt that made him look like Jon Bon Jovi, and lastly, Karate Grandma. The casting director somehow found this old woman from Wisconsin who was a second-degree black belt and made ill crostinis. When it was time for the competition, I was already a few drinks deep, taking shots of the Moutai that I was supposed to cook with.
During the interviews, they kept asking me how I felt about Dave cooking Asian food, since his dish was wontons in some sort of fucked-up kitchen-sink peanut sauce. I responded, “To be honest, it’s really bad Asian fusion, but some people like that.”
That’s the confidence that New York gave me. There was finally a city that appreciated what I had to say and the honesty with which I said it. When I would speak my mind like that in Orlando, people would literally call me “racist.” I wasn’t, though. Chinese or not, seeing food or any cultural artifact bastardized just pissed me and most New Yorkers off.
In the end, I lost the competition but won the crowd. After we finished taping, people kept coming up wanting to try the skirt steak. The last one to come by was magenta Guy Fieri himself.
“Hey, bro. You kicked ass today, man.”
“No, for real. Look, this is TV. Don’t pay attention to it. You got the chops. Don’t give up.”
“Give up on what?”
“Cooking, dude! Go for it.”
And despite the fact that I think Guy Fieri looks like a rodeo clown, I have to say he played a part in encouraging me to do this. I can’t cosign Tex-Mex sushi or wearing your sunglasses backward, but one time … he got it right. So, as I say this with a trash can under my head in case vomit involuntarily spews out of my eyes, “Thank you, Guy Fieri.”
From Fresh Off the Boat (Spiegel & Grau, a divison of Random House; January 2013), by BaoHaus owner Eddie Huang, who was a contestant on Fieri’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown.