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A few years ago, after Eddie Huang submitted the manusCRIpt of his memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” which made ample use of footnotes, his editor, Chris Jackson, asked him if he’d read fellow footnoter Junot Díaz. He had not.
“I have real gaps in my literary history,” Mr. Huang said recently, with his signature blend of self-deprecation and upstart bravado. “Number 1, I’m Chinese, and Number 2, I’m from Orlando. So help me, fam!”
He began Mr. Díaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” but stopped after 100 pages, wowed and flummoxed: “I didn’t want to steal his moves.” He didn’t return to it until he had completed the first draft of his new memoir, “Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China” (Spiegel & Grau), which will be released on Tuesday.
“I was chasing him through the last eight revisions, asking myself, ‘Does this give you feelings on that level that “Oscar Wao” gave you?’” Mr. Huang said. “I got as close as I could.”
It was coming up on midnight in Chelsea when he said this, and he was wearing a jubilantly loud J. W. Anderson coat with fat horizontal stripes in varying shades of brown. It was cold out, and a few feet away was the Gilded Lily, the club where he was about to host a party with the fashion designer Maxwell Osborne, of the au courant duo Public School.
But before that, one last point. “People always want to compare me to Tony,” Mr. Huang added, referring to Anthony Bourdain, the modern prototype of chef turned acidic social commentator. “But I never read ‘Kitchen Confidential.’ I read ‘Oscar Wao.’”
Food is, as ever, a Trojan horse for Mr. Huang, who in the past five years has parlayed fame (and a little bit of infamy) as a chef into a career of pining, bomb-tossing and taunting — sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes bad-naturedly, sometimes both.
In addition to his two memoirs (his first was turned into an ABC sitcom), he’s given a memorable TED talk (then had his TED fellowship rescinded over disagreements with the foundation); written the occasional scathing takedown article; been featured in a Sprite commercial; and hosted an Internet show about global food culture, which has morphed into the television show “Huang’s World,” on Viceland.
Throughout, hip-hop has been his framework and organizing narrative. On the difference between his first memoir and the new one: “‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is a mixtape — the Cam’ron mixtape before ‘Purple Haze’; ‘Double Cup Love’ is the album. I smoothed things out, I mixed it, I was surgical about it.”
On the bridge-burning article he wrote for New York Magazine about how ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” sanitized his childhood: “That’s Kendrick, ‘Control.’ Me just beefing.”
And on the relatively fallow period between his two books and his public falling out with ABC: “I feel like Future right now after ‘Pluto’ — people definitely left me for dead.”
In “Double Cup Love,” Mr. Huang, 34, who was born in Falls Church, Va., near Washington, to Taiwanese immigrants, and raised in Orlando, Fla., details his parallel quests for acceptance: by China, and by a woman he fell for and eventually proposed to. “I don’t think I was ever able to be as close with someone as I was with her, and I don’t think I was ever as able to be comfortable with being Chinese as I was with Chengdu,” he said.
Exclusion is a continuing theme of Mr. Huang’s work, and he often finds himself at odds, he said, with Asian-Americans who feel his story isn’t appropriately representative. “A lot of people are trying to actively contain my voice, like, ‘He doesn’t speak for us,’ and I’m like, ‘I won’t argue with you.’” Often, he said, he speaks at colleges where the main question he’s asked is, in essence, “How did you learn to love yourself?”
Mr. Huang’s writing is wry and zippy; he regards the world with an understanding of its absurdities and injustices and with a willingness to be surprised. The dark edge of “Fresh Off the Boat” is mostly gone in the new book, replaced with an acceptance of calm in his life.
“Double Cup Love” was originally proposed as a book in which Mr. Huang would travel to China to try cooking for locals, but it turned into a memoir about love. Neither of his books is really about food — “it’s all window dressing,” he said.
He added: “When you live in a place where you are not the dominant culture, you have to play fools against themselves. You’re going to assume I can kung fu, you’re going to assume I can cook food, and I’m going to play this against you.”
Still, even if food is only the costume, it occupies a central role in Mr. Huang’s life. Before the party at the Gilded Lily, Mr. Huang had begun his evening cooking a private dinner for a music lawyer and some associates, including Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) and the songwriter-producer Emile Haynie. After that, it was on to Sushi Yasuda in Midtown, for a seat at the counter and some fawning over the omakase, with running commentary after he popped each piece into his mouth with his hands.
In between the kinmedai and the cherrystone clam, he remembered how Dena, the woman at the center of his new book, comforted him early in their relationship during a bumpy time in the bedroom. “I was soft as a piece of kinmedai,” he said. “She was like: ‘It’s all right. We’re going to fix you,’ and my heart literally dropped.”
But the relationship ended after Mr. Huang wrote the first draft, giving the book an uncomfortable coda — an elaborate story of love and self-discovery that ends with the cruel realization that love isn’t always eternal.
Mr. Huang began writing during high school as a reaction to hearing other students disparage hip-hop. It was “a call to arms,” he said. “I decided I’ll write about anything unfair.” Righting injustices remains a crux of his work: He devoted much of a recent “Huang’s World” episode about Jamaica to the “new colonialism” caused by that nation’s CRIppling debt, and said that he hoped to go to Kenya to learn more about one organization’s attempt to support a universal baseline income — a policy he desCRIbed as “reparations for those who don’t fit in.”
Even though Mr. Huang has rabbis who’ve smoothed his path toward the mainstream — his editor, Mr. Jackson; Shane Smith of Vice; Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, who is stepping down — the defining throughline of his public life has, until now, been a tug of war with authority.
But lately he’s been wondering if his bomb-throwing days are coming to an end. “I’m not as much of an outsider now,” he conceded. “People can make money off of me — I’m a proven commodity.”
He’s also putting less of himself on the line, beginning to trade ax-grinding and self-revealing memoir for fiction and screenplays.
A seat at the table has its costs, though, and Mr. Huang is trying to remain awake to them, remaining vigilant about falling “in love with the seat and not what you’re saying.”
For now, though, he’s open to the options being thrown his way. “I’m able to say, ‘This is what I want, this is what it’s worth to me, how much is it worth to you?’ If the value ever doesn’t match, I’m back to selling things off the truck, and I’m O.K. with that.”