The Master of Pok Pok
4 Monks in a Bar
“Satay isn’t satay unless it’s cooked over charcoal.” — Andy Ricker
Andy Ricker is another highly visible Andy in Thai cuisine, along with Andy Arunasameruang of Chicago. Ricker, from Portland, Oregon, has done the unusual — he has become a leading Thai chef in North America. And Ricker’s not even Thai!
Ricker first learned about Thai food more than 25 years ago on a back-packing trek through Thailand. Since then, he has returned to Southeast Asia every year, to refine cooking skills, pick up new recipes, and generally study street food of the region.
Ricker is famous for his restaurant Pok Pok in Portland, where he serves his Thai specialties. Pok Pok now has branched into New York City.
Ricker’s recent venture, Whiskey Soda Lounge Ny, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, serves Thai bar food and drinks. At its opening, four Buddhist monks from the Vigiradhammapadip Temple in Long Island traveled to Brooklyn to conduct a traditional house-blessing ceremoney for the new bar.
Pok Pok’s name, by the way, comes from the Thai word for the sound a pestle makes in a mortar.
When Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Nex restaurant planned to do a special Thai food event, he asked Ricker to be his consultant.
Some of Ricker’s signature dishes include —
- baby back ribs glazed with honey
- salt crusted tilapia
- grilled chicken liver on skewers
- spicy green papaya salad
- Thai beef salad with fresh mint and roasted rice powder
Desserts might include Sweet Sticky Rice with Mangoes or Sesame Seed Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk and Mango.
Ricker’s philosophy can be summed up as serving authentic Thai food in North America using the right ingredients. Ricker confines himself to basic ingredients available at Portland’s Asian food markets. He tries to make the dining experience at his restaurants as close to eating in Bangkok as possible.
One ingredient Ricker insists on is charcoal, and he runs through 500 pounds of the stuff a week in Portland. As Ricker says, satay isn’t really satay unless it’s cooker over charcoal.
Ricker’s on a crusade to teach Americans to prepare authentic Thai food at home. A cookbook is in the works.
For Further Information: Jeanine Celete Pang, “4 Monks and a Bar,: New York Times, August 4, 2013.