Thai Dinner with Andy Ricker (Pok Pok) & David Thompson (nahm)

Andy Ricker Wears His Passion On His Arm

See tattoos for explanation

I’m not sure what had a stronger bouquet, the freshly painted walls or the open buckets of fish sauce. But both awakened my sinuses as Andy Ricker led me into the dining room of Pok Pok NY, the James Beard Award-winning chef’s much-anticipated new restaurant opening next month in Brooklyn. Ricker, a sandy-haired former house painter and rock guitarist originally from Vermont but based in Portland—who parlayed a deep interest in Thai cooking and eating culture into a wildly successful restaurant group—was just back from a two-week shopping trip in Thailand. He gave me a glimpse of  the ingredients he will be using in a LUCKYRICE Festival dinner he's cooking with Michelin-starred Chef David Thompson of nahm who will be flying in from Bangkok.

"For the recipes that I have written, if you serve them in large piles it’s too goddamn much,” he said while shaking off the jet lag.

And such is the Pok Pok ethic: authentic bites of lemongrass sausage, grilled eggplants and chilied pork over vermicelli, served communally and in measured portions.

Many think Pok Pok specializes in Thai street food but this is not the case. Ricker, along with Australian David Thomspon, is often acknowledged as one of the world's best Thai chefs.  They describe themselves as "culinary archaeologists" in that they strive to preserve traditional Thai dishes whose recipes may only exist in the memories of Thai grandmothers. Thompson penned the 688 page encyclopedic Thai Food which does the deep dive on Thai culture and cuisine. Similarly, Ricker's mission is to elevate the status of Thai cuisine in America by exposing everyone who steps into his restaurants to the complexities of the food. And, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is the source of his inspiration.

One look at Ricker's tattoos and you know he's dedicated to - perhaps obsessed with is a better characterization - the art of Thai cuisine.  The tattoo on the front of his right forearm is a symbolic mortar and pestle with Pok Pok (an onomatopoeia for the sound of the pestle hitting the mortar) written in Thai.  On the back of the same arm is a garden of northern Thai herbs - cilantro, green onion and sawtooth coriander.

As Ricker led me to his basement kitchen, I spotted several of the large red, white and blue plastic woven bags that are ubiquitous in Chinatowns around the world. They were overflowing with spices, packets of palm sugar, the coveted oyster sauce from David Thompson’s Bangkok-based Megachef and freshly ground chilies—fragrant and sticky.

And then came out the laap knife that he bought from a guy on the side of the road near Chiang Mai for $10. It was  well-worn with an unpolished blade and burned handle but it's the chef’s preferred tool for chopping up galangal, mint and other aromatic herbs.

Ricker's goal is to recreate the authentic experience of eating in Chiang Mai as he knows it.  Pok Pok will offer delicious, rustic fare served on cheap plastic plates in a tented backyard. It’s the way it’s done in Thailand, and it's the way he's going to do it in Brooklyn.

-- Matt Rodbard

Read More

Andy Ricker's trip to Chiang Mai in

The New York Times

His culinary mission plus some recipes in

Bon Appétit

Chiang Mai: A Northern Thai Dinner May 3 Pok Pok 127 Columbia Street, Brooklyn$150 per person(tax & ticket fee additional)

Buy Tickets

Cocktails at  7:00 pm

Bia Wun: Singha Beer Slushies

Bombay Sapphire East cocktails curated by Andy Ricker

YAMAZAKI Single Malt Whisky

Neua Daet Diaw

Sun-Dried Wagyu

Hors d'Oeuvres

Miang Lao

Spicy Minced Pork with Pickled Mustard Greens

Khang Phong

Papaya Fritters with  Lemongrass, Shallots and Turmeric

Dinner Served Family-Style at 8:00 pm

Yam Samun Phrai Northern herb salad

Naam Phrik Num Grilled Chiang Mai Chili Relish with Grilled Sausage and Pork Crackling with Steamed Vegetables and Fresh Herbs

Khao Kan Jin Steamed Black Pudding with Rice, Deep-Fried Shallots, Chilies and Cucumber

Kaeng Hung Leh Thai Yai Pork Belly Curry with Palm Sugar, Tamarind, Ginger and Pickled Garlic Yam Kai

Heun Meuang Spicy Curry of Guinea Hen with Green Melon and Prickly Ash and Asian Mint

Neua Saa Beef Tartare à la the North

Phat Phak Kut Stir-Fried Fiddlehead Ferns with Fresh Chilies and Garlic

Khao Niaw Steamed Sticky Rice

A Selection of Sweets by Tanongsak Yordwai

Grilled Sticky Rice with Bananas Steamed Jackfruit Custard with Palm Sugar and Coconut Cream