The Very Flat Life of Albert Cho

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Friday, November 4, 2022

It’s Monday and Albert Cho arrives hot from a big weekend, having dined on pork fat pretzels and duck cutlets with salmon roe at the Parnell Alpha restaurant.

A few days earlier, he had eaten a Mars bar inside a Toppa lasagna. For the 81,000 followers on his Instagram handle @EatLitFoodit is exactly this kind of hedonistic appreciation of highbrow, popular cuisine that has made him famous, just as his pathologically honest, regularly spicy, and often hilarious reviews of the city’s dining establishments have made him infamous.

His writing is both culinary appreciation and sleazy, jaw-dropping opinion. In a sea of ​​carefully curated and smoothing Instagram posts, its authenticity is refreshing to say the least.

We met at Annabel’s on Ponsonby Rd, a small, dimly lit wine bar not far from his full-time job as an editor, and the only thing consumed is an americano. He has now gone from Instagram star to author, having penned a memoir titled I love my stupid life.

There are recipes, many of them from friends, including cooking hacks like putting soy sauce in a spag bowl he lovingly included, stories of pumpkin porridge in Korea, and inadvertently eating a whale in Japan, and memories of his candy-infused teenage years when he was bullied for being chubby.

There’s the story of her growing social currency and how that matched her decreasing height and her pursuit of an international modeling career, starting Eat Lit Food in college, and working as a food writer at a magazine. who came out.

It could have been just a food book, “but my life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows,” he says. He also writes about the sexual abuse inflicted by an adopted brother, his dark ruts with drug addiction, his revelation to his parents, and perhaps most confusing for someone in his calling, the eating disorder that has it all. clouded.

He still can’t bring himself to read the book cover to cover, but his father did, and he “hates”, says Albert sadly, especially the candid revelations about drug use and her son’s sex life.

” I expected that. My parents are pretty traditional Catholics,” says Albert, who IRL gives off a more laid-back vibe than his funny online persona, his delicate features enhanced by hazel contact lenses.

“After years of writing for other people, I kept reminding myself that this book is not for my father, so why do I have to take that into consideration? So I just wrote it for myself.

As a young man struggling with sexual abuse and an eating disorder, it was rare, he says, and still is, to hear men talk about such things. And although he finds it uncomfortable to become a spokesperson for either, it only recently occurred to him that he is more inclined to share facets of his life than others. .

Some of his pro-skinny Instagram posts may be disturbingly flippant, but the way he sees it, he normalizes what people already think. Eating disorders are usually about being in control, he adds, but that’s not why he got it.

He agrees that there are a multitude of triggers in his book, but worrying about how it will read only stifles your writing, “and if you’re triggered by a book, you really need to. assistance “.

READ: The Beths take Jesse Mulligan on a late-night foodie tour of Karangahape Road

Six iterations of the book ensued (not that unusual, according to the publisher), and some of the more sordid stories were toned down.

However, there is a tale of a lonely sleepless night at her family home, rich in molly festival remnants. [MDMA]”the most miserable thing I’ve ever done. You wake up and other people are doing normal things and you’re crazy and alone. I hope people read this stuff and remember that it’s not There was no glamor at all. It was the most anti-social I’ve ever been.

Parlor critics he suspects are eager to tear the book to shreds will no doubt wonder why such behavior has to be recorded in the same format as a chocolate cake recipe or is it even old enough. , at 25, to write a memoir. He jokes that between the ages of 24 and 25, he has matured a lot, “but only a little bit”.

“If I had kept everything [the original text] in, I probably would have rolled in my grave in 10 years. When I started writing it, I was so mad at everything that happened in my past. It was really a presentation.

The therapy helped him distance himself from his demons, leaving him free to muddle even the dark times. Yet unlike the book, in which the editor played the gatekeeper role, there’s no such handbrake on Eat Lit Food, and Albert learned the hard way that when you post on social media, the The tide of public support can turn quickly.

While her fan base has steadily grown, her feed filled with mostly positive posts that have spotlighted some of the hospitality industry’s unsung heroes, a few controversies have threatened to “cancel” her (do a search Google for his name alongside Goodness Gracious or Pasture of Evidence).

It’s not uncommon to hear people complaining that Albert’s salty criticism could crush a business. If that were true, he argues, “this business was already on its way out. I agree that I can certainly temporarily harm the business. But when it comes to ruining a business, I’m sure even Gordon Ramsay couldn’t do that. Auckland people just like to raise their arms for everything.

When the Goodness Gracious scandal happened (short version: Albert slammed a bagel, they brazenly responded, and it all went downhill after the head-to-head was reported in the press), Albert is found caught in a storm of online vitriol, much of it blatantly racist.

“The first time I got this, I was pretty shocked,” Albert says. “There was so much about my parents, my race, I was like, how relevant is it to talk about food?”

It’s mentioned in the book; and he manages to find the fun side, pointing out that if someone talks down their ethnicity, “I can’t sit my parents down and tell them to reborn me.”

As for his other detractors, people often have a fixed idea of ​​who is “allowed” to criticize restaurants (a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, for example) and who is not (a young paying influencer who jokes in his book that he doesn’t know the difference between parsley and cilantro).

“One hundred percent,” Albert agrees. “But I never said I was a food critic. Everyone did this to me, so it wasn’t my fault. I literally rode the wave and I’m where I am now. It’s something that started as a funny thing in college. Well, not funny. It started because I had to recover from my disorder.

As her understanding of food grew, the enjoyment of good food eventually replaced her desire to be ultra-thin. But he acknowledges that eating disorders can be slippery, always-hidden demons. He says he’s indebted to his friends who keep him in line.

One is his former grammar buddy Takapuna Ella Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde. She sent him a “gnarled wake-up text” from the other side of the world when he made a passing comment about not eating before a photoshoot, just as she plays an almost Yoda-like figure, d supernatural wisdom, all along I love my stupid life.

Albert also became friends with Long liveEditor-in-chief Jesse Mulligan, who himself is no stranger to online heat for his food reviews. This year, they are working together to select the Auckland’s 50 Best Restaurants for a second time (stay tuned for the special issue, coming soon), work that Albert says gave him more credibility.

“He’s swear and he’s dirty,” Jesse wrote of Albert last year, “but the more I read his writing, the more I realize he knows as much about food and restaurants as anyone else. anyone else in town.”

Their inaugural list, with that of Michael Meredith Mr Morris at number one, was mostly met with positivity, although a minority still complained at the sight of two men on the cover (although there was a woman on it most weeks).

“It was really confusing,” says Albert. “People were saying there was a lack of diversity. Like what? I’m Asian and gay, I think I win in that department. But you can’t please everyone. A lot of people say I’m not Asian enough anymore. I don’t go to Dominion Rd as much and I go to all those Ponsonby restaurants. First of all, I live here. And second, it’s really fucked up. Can Asians only go to Dominion Rd and get 10 dumplings for $20? »

READ: Restaurant Awards 2021: Honorable mentions from Jesse Mulligan and Albert Cho

When he and his sister were younger, they played against the “shy, reserved Asian” stereotype by shocking prejudiced outsiders with their boldness. It’s a trait that has lingered, as well as a natural charisma that Albert channels on YouTube, making sassy videos.

He is set to star in a six-episode reality series titled The Hustle NZ for Discovery (airing on Three from November 24), in which a film crew follows him and other New Zealand creators, including Yu Mei founder Jessie Wong and musician Harper Finn.

While his on-screen presence may seem loose, his messages occasionally reckless, he is (for the most part) a busy professional who continues his work from accidental internet star turned marketer turned author.

If anyone is surprised by his phenomenal popularity, it is Albert Cho himself, who says that in his parents’ time, memoirs were written by Olympic medalists, while he “managed a Instagram”.

“I’m like, what in the world for me to get a book deal? Like, what the fuck is this?”

I Love My Stupid Life, by Albert Cho, (Penguin, $37) will be released on November 8 and is available for pre-order now.

*To speak to a volunteer with experience in eating disorderscall EDANZ helpline on 0800 2 EDANZ.


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