How Eddie Huang Is Helping Create “Vape Cuisine”

Whenever he’d travel to China, chef/author/entrepreneur Eddie Huang noticed something unique about the food. Not that it was “more authentic” than what we’d get here in the States. Not that it was heartier or spicier. No, there was something else that gave it that unmistakable…something.

“In China, man, everybody smokes cigarettes. Everywhere,” Huang explains. “Everybody is going crazy with cigarettes! And it seeps into the flavor of whatever you’re eating, wherever you’re eating.”

(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Rather than be disgusted by nicotine-smoked meat skewers, Huang felt inspired and even encouraged. “Growing up cooking Chinese food at home, a lot of it was sauté on low/medium heat…a lot of it is stewed, boiled over a long period of time…then in a commercial Chinese restaurant so much is done at an extremely high heat in a wok. So it was something I was always interested in and studied: the effect of steaming, low temp frying, high temp frying, burning points and the application of smoke.”

Huang’s personal interest in unusual flavors and smoke caught the eye of electronic cigarette brand blu, which just announced this week a partnership with Huang where the chef-of-all-trades will serve as MC for a series of “blu Tasting Room” that will be touring the country with scheduled stops in Miami, Las Vegas, Nashville, Austin, and more. The idea is to inspire chefs to create dishes that complement blu’s array of vape flavors—giving them a bit more to work with than the delicate bouquet of unfiltered Camels.

“blu gave me some vape flavors to try and they’re really interesting,” says Huang. “I’m not a smoker. I mean, I’m on record that I smoke week and when I was a kid and did Ecstasy I’d smoke Newports [laughs] But for the most part I don’t smoke, and I tried these vapes and I found the flavors really interesting. And they gave me the opportunity to create a dinner pairing flavors that work with them.”

Huang admits that some of the flavors were challenging—like the cherry vape, which he likened to the taste of medicinal cough drops (which he loves, by the way, because he was not allowed candy as a child and lozenges were the closest he’d get)—but some proved to be total naturals. “Lamb and mint go really well together, so I made these Beijing lamb skewers, and then people can smoke Polar Mint to cleanse their palate.” In a nod to the lamb skewers’ home city, Huang also cooks the meat over charcoal to give it that missing hint of cigarette.

The tasting tour is more than a chance to show the versatility of vape flavors, it gave Huang a chance to reflect on his own cooking philosophy. He’s not here to change the image of vaping or “mature” it in anyway – he just wants to explore the experience and get to the bottom of why people enjoy it. This kind of reflection and non-judgment isn’t surprising when you consider Huang already wrote an autobiography, Fresh Off The Boat (the inspiration for the sitcom of the same name) before he was even 30. Which begs the question: How does 36 year-old Eddie view the words of 28 year-old Eddie?

(Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

“I love this question because I think about this all the time,” he says. “I go back and I pick up Fresh Off The Boat and it’s like looking at a different version of yourself. I look at it and sometimes I go, ‘Yo, you were fucking funny…you were a little bit more wild, more crazy, and I love it…’ and sometimes I read a sentence and I’m like, ‘You coulda used a semicolon here…’ At that age, from like 28 to 29, I was just dying for something real. I was dying to get a monkey off my back. I was dying for someone to understand and accept me for who I was. Nobody would. My own friends were struggling, too. We were just growing up together. As you’re working, I feel like it’s very hard to be aware of how long this road is, life. But I am so happy that I wrote that book when I wrote it, because I’ll go back and there is knowledge and wisdom and feelings that I don’t feel on a daily basis like I did then, and they’re really important. Especially that yearning for something real. Maybe when you get older you have more friends, you have a bit more money, you’re more comfortable…you start to think you don’t need everything to be so real and so authentic and you start to slumber and accept lesser versions of things. I’ll go back and read Fresh Off The Boat and it wakes me up. It’s important not to disregard emotions or feelings or versions of yourself. They’re all present, you just aren’t tapping into them all the time.”