How to Hire an Awesome Restaurant Staff, by Eddie Huang

Food & Wine: © Jasmin Sun
Eddie Huang (center) and his Baohaus crew. © Jasmin Sun
By Jasmin Sun Posted January 28, 2013
© Jasmin Sun

Eddie Huang (center) with Baohaus staff; © Jasmin Sun

For the past three months, infamously outspoken lawyer-turned-comedian-turned-streetwear designer and chef-restaurateur Eddie Huang has been traveling through California and Taiwan as the host of Vice TV’s Fresh Off the Boat web series. Tomorrow, he’ll add “author” to his growing list of careers when his memoir, also titled Fresh Off the Boat, goes on sale nationwide. In the humorous, often profane style he's become known for, Huang delves into his tumultuous childhood as a Taiwanese-American growing up in suburban Orlando, and outlines the misadventures leading up to the opening of his pork-bun-centric East Village spot, Baohaus.

He also offers insight into building a brand through non-traditional hiring requirements. His first Craigslist ad, for example, was titled, "Baohaus Hiring Multi-Tasking Nice People Who Listen to Ghostface." Here, Huang talks to F&W about why hip-hop lovers make great restaurant employees but culinary school grads don't always work out.

Eddie Huang's Hiring Tips

1. Hire people with a sense of humor. "I’m looking for people who aren’t uptight, who want to have fun. Really, I just want the place to be filled with weirdos who listen to hip-hop. The crew at Baohaus is a very rag-tag bunch, so we want to hire people that culturally get along with one another. It translates into great customer service. It also helps contribute to the vibe of the restaurant. It’s really like a party in there all the time, so when I'm interviewing someone it’s like, would you invite this person to your party?"

2. But don't hire party animals. “Sometimes the way I do things has attracted some people who are a little too much like me,” he says. “We’ve had some people smoke weed while on the line. There’s even been a guy who freebased off of a Mountain Dew can before his shift. When I fired him I just said, ‘Dude, you just freebased off a Mountain Dew can. You gotta go.’”

3. Hip-hop fans make great employees. Decoding Huang’s hip hop-laced job listings is part of the interview. He’s called for "People Who Like Pyrex and Cavalli Furs” (a reference to the song "Mr. Me Too" by rap duo Clipse) and asked, “Are you the same one cryin' for that Billie Jean Jacket?” (from Cam'ron and DMX's "Pull It"). "We never test people about music during the interview itself, but the lyrics I choose are usually so obscure, that if you knew them, and knew how to respond to them in a funny way, then I’d already know you are a good fit for us,” says Huang. “If people respond to the listing without even responding to the lyric, then I don’t even bring them in.” Huang's favorite employee to date answered his Ghostface reference with a further nod to Wu-Tang, boasting "a degree in Shaolin shadow–boxing aka I can go back and forth on the Wu and Killa Cam in his best years."

4. Style is important. “If we like your style, you’re probably going to be hired. Because you’re going to be representing the restaurant. There are always people who come in with a suit on during the interview, and it’s just like, you clearly did not look at the restaurant website beforehand; we’re definitely not going to hire you.” Beyond style, understanding the restaurant's culture is equally as crucial. “Once this girl came in and said, ‘Is it hip-hop all the time here? Because I find it offensive.’ And I was just like, ‘Well, I’m not hiring you. Why are you here?’”

5. Be wary of culinary school students. “We never check if you go to culinary school,” says Huang. “In fact we’d prefer it if you didn’t go to culinary school. We only have six to eight dishes at the restaurant, and our technique is different from what you’d learn at the CIA; it’s very much like how you’d make it at home, a Chinese technique. Initially when we would have CIA students, it’d be very difficult because they’d be like, ‘Oh, well we do it this way, we do it that way.’ Once we got rid of all the culinary school kids and the lifelong line cooks, it’s been a lot better. Those guys come, and they’re very judgmental, very entitled. Half my cooks are from Red Lobster. And you know what? They listen. And they do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it.”

6. Seek out straight-talkers. “I think most chefs would lie to you and say, ‘Oh, yes, they must love food,’” says Huang. “I remember in one interview we asked someone what their favorite food was, and they said, ‘I love that KFC around the corner!’ I was like, ‘Yo, dude! Real.’ I don’t judge that sort of thing. I’d rather you love the atmosphere and enjoy working at the restaurant as a job. I love the food I serve, and so do the other three people who have a hand in cooking it. I’m not going to force my food on you. But if there’s something about the restaurant that connects with you and that you want to grow with, that’s what we want.”

Follow writer Jasmin Sun on Twitter @jasminsun.

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