Q&A with Andy Ricker
LUCKYINSIDER is an ongoing series of conversations with chefs who we think are pretty genius.
From his infamous wings to slurp-worthy noodles, Andy Ricker has transformed the world of Thai cuisine in the United States. Beginning his working life as a dishwasher in Vermont when he was teenager, he accumulated culinary knowledge whilst backpacking and working in restaurants in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. With multiple restaurants in NYC, Portland, and LA, AndyRicker is showing Americans that there is more to Thai cuisine than what is typically found on Western Thai menus. In this episode of LuckyInsider, we delve into the mind of the James Beard Award-winning chef behind the Pok Pok empire:
LUCKYRICE: What attracted you to LA for the next outpost of Pok Pok? And why Chinatown? Andy Ricker : It is easier to find the ingredients I need to make the food on our menu and the LA food scene is in bloom. Chinatown is a great central location, the rent is reasonable, there are plenty of spaces available, but most of all, it is a very cool neighborhood with a lot of interesting things happening, not just restaurants. The people here have been very welcoming. Also, LAX-C, the giant Thai/Asian food warehouse market is down the street.
LUCKYRICE: Do Angelenos have a different Thai palate from New Yorkers? Andy: That is pretty hard to answer, but I can say that there is a hell of a lot more Thai food here. A lot more Thai people here and Angelenos have been into Thai food on a wider scale than in NYC for a longer period of time.
LUCKYRICE: Many people find Asian food in America not "authentic". Do you consider your cooking to the "authentic"? Andy: No, I don't agree with the use of that word in relation to food at all. What we do at Pok Pok is specific regional Thai food with an emphasis on recipes that might have been more popular a few decades ago, with a sprinkling of specific regional foods from other areas of Southeast Asia thrown in for good measure.
LUCKYRICE: What about drinking culture and drinking foods of Northern Thailand. We heard you're writing a cocktail book - can you tell us more? Andy: I am not writing a cocktail book really. It's a book about the drinking culture and drinking food of Thailand. There, as in many countries around the world, is a group of foods that are associated with drinking (go to Whiskey Soda Lounge in Portland or NYC and you can see some examples of what those dishes might be) and it happens that it is one of the most fun ways to eat when you travel. Both because the food tends to be good and because of the social aspect of drinking with locals. This book will be an attempt to shine a light on this culture and the food and drink that is attached to it.
LUCKYRICE: Today marks the start of Songkran, the Thai New Year. How will you be celebrating? Andy: I am traveling to Thailand on April 12th, arriving just in time for the start of Songkran on April 13th.
LUCKYRICE: You spend a lot of your time every year in Thailand. What do you do when you are there? Andy: I eat, research, cook, shop for the restaurants, travel, and try to relax a bit. It's like a second (or third or fourth) home to me. I do not view traveling there as going on vacation. It is just an extension of my everyday life.