Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where’d they stay, what’d they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?! Andy Ricker, of Pok Pok Ny and Phat Thai in New York and several 2Pok Enterprises in Portland, Oregon, did a remarkable thing in 2013 — he brought his highly regarded (and buzzed about) Thai cooking to the East Coast and convinced New York City diners that they were legit — pretty much from day one. This simply does not happen. (Famed Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio attempted the same to near opposite results.)
Ricker’s success goes beyond the quality of the cooking, which is exceptional. He played the game like a pro. He actually moved to New York City (he split time between PDX and a small apartment in the heart of Chinatown). And, most importantly, he makes time in his extremely busy schedule to travel to Thailand with his staff (talk about training) and to visit his friends living throughout the country. He recently returned from a seven-week trip and fills us in on his travels.
Was this trip business or pleasure?
Mostly business, but since my business is also my pleasure, for the most part, I can say it was also mostly for pleasure.
Main purpose of your trip?
I had some kitchen managers from the restaurants with me for the first two weeks, getting their palates tuned, rubbing their noses in it all so that they can better have context for what we are doing at 2Pok Enterprise. Getting some décor for the new Whiskey Soda Lounge in NYC. Searching out some cool seasonal dishes. I rarely make it over this time of year, and seasonal specialties are always interesting.
What was the highlight?
Riding my mortorbike through the mountains between Pai and Mae Hong Son one chilly morning.
Getting the shits from eating saa neua (raw chopped beef, offal and blood “salad”). It was delicious, btw.
What airline(s) did you fly and how was it?
Delta. They are the only airline that flies from Portland directly to Asia, which saves me a bunch of time. But that’s the only good thing I have to say about them.
Did you take trains? What are those like in Thailand?
Not this trip. I recommend taking a second class sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai if you have the time. It’s like going back 30-40 years, especially if you go hang out in the diner car: the staff there can be very entertaining and the décor is classic.
Where’d you stay, what’s your mini-review of the place?
In Bangkok, I always stay at the Metropolitan, where David Thompson‘s restaurant Nahm is. It’s a pretty sleek and urbane place to stay but the highlight is Nahm.
What was your best meal on the trip?
Toss-up between a meal I cooked with my friend Sunny up in Chiang Mai (Kaeng Dawk Kalam: Northern cauliflower curry; Kaeng Kradang: jellied pork foot curry — both cool season dishes I have not cooked before) and Nahm in Bangkok with my buddy Austin Bush — featuring dishes like stir-fried venison with cumin and a sour salad of pennywort, prawns and boiled pork, and a delicious salad made with hibiscus flowers, not to mention a dry chili and peanut relish that was pretty fucking noteworthy. It was maybe the best of about 20 different meals I have eaten there since the place opened two years ago.
What did you bring back for the restaurants?
Just some décor in the form of a bunch of old signs and banners — and a whole bunch of ideas.