A son of immigrants from Canton in the Guagzhou province of China, John Huang was born into a life of duty and responsibility to family. He wanted desperately to hold onto his creative freedom and identity outside of his parents’ influence, but also bring them pride.
John’s parents knew each other in homeland China but fell in love after reuniting in their mid-twenties on the maritime province of Prince Edward Island, Canada. His father at first wanted to pursue a career in auto mechanics restoring classic Mustangs, but needed money to support his family back in China. Having worked as a chef in fine dining previously, he began to work in the local Chinese restaurant. Learning English on a student visa and getting paid under the table, John’s father was able to earn enough money to buy his own restaurant. With knowledge of running a successful business and his wife’s support, they were able to realise their dream of a more successful life.
Showing an interest in cooking at the age of nine, John began to work in his father’s now extremely successful restaurant – the success partially due to the fact there was no competition in the neighbouring province of Nova Scotia, where the restaurant’s roots had been planted. The family cooked traditional Chinese food that was palatable to the North American taste. You would not find chicken feet here, but your classic chicken balls and sweet and sour sauce. Stable income and growth flooded the Huang’s and the dream came true. Due to the wealth acquired from the restaurant, John Huang’s family was able to send him away to private school where he was introduced to a world of privilege and wealth.
Thinking that architecture school was a good way to maintain his new found lifestyle, he acquired his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and began the monotony of the nine to five. Life began to weigh heavy; the same routine, unbearable bosses, stifled creativity, surrounded by a culture of exclusivity and shitty attitudes. John decided that enough was enough: the kitchen was calling. So, after yet another fight with his boss, John left the office and stepped into Culinary School. Returning to the East coast for school was an easy decision. He was walking a similar road to his father, getting back to his roots. When he began, his father sat him down and asked him: “Is life as a cook what you really want? The road is long and hard.” John’s “yes” was neither hesitated nor forced.
Staging in a Michelin star restaurant in the US before his second year of culinary school the, dark nature of cooking showed its fangs. Working on three hours of sleep, stagers are put to unpaid work in some kind of cruel practice of voluntary slave labour. Fellow chefs would sabotage one other to get ahead, and your soul caught fire only to be burned to ash, many turning to drugs just to have the will to continue working. Though even after all of the mental and physical abuse John wanted more, and an addict was born finding the pleasure out of pain.
Finishing his last year of school it was time, in his father’s eyes, to get serious. At twenty-two years old John agreed that one day he would do his father and family proud by taking over the family business. Taking a few years to grow and learn as a chef, working in the Okanagan Valley, feeding off the intensity and knowledge of those around him, he continued to be stimulated and creatively active. Moving on to Vancouver where John now calls home, he is reaching the end. The end of being a carefree chef, able to make mistakes and not having serious consequences, a sacrifice must now be made. He has the choice to give up the creativity and step into the role as head of his family business; or to turn his back and make something of his own.
At this point John is not ready to let go of cooking, but wants to keep the history of a 30 year old family business alive. It is a hard decision for anyone to make, and accepting responsibility is not an easy thing to do. But if you are strong enough like I know John is, you can still maintain your true sense of self holding on to your own core values. This is something John says he will be struggling with for a while yet. He loves his life in Vancouver, but also wants a family – and going back to Nova Scotia is his opportunity for that kind of life. I asked John “At the end of the day, what do you want to be more proud of? Your family? Or your restaurant?”. He replied, “To be honest it would be family. My family will always be more important than my job”, a realization I do not think John has ever said out loud before now.
Me: “John What’s the Dream?”
John “Sitting on my front deck smoking cigarettes and watching my children play”
Funny how there was no mention of a restaurant.