Khe-Yo's Soulayphet "Phet" Schwader: "Opening a Restaurant Is Challenging, but It's a Simple Formula. We Overthink Things."
Soulayphet "Phet" Schwader may have grown up in the midwest--Wichita, Kansas, to be precise--but his upbringing centered on preserving traditions from Laos, his homeland. A Laotian community thrived in Wichita, he explains, and so in addition to traveling around the country with his Laotian soccer team and becoming involved with the Laotian Buddhist temple, he ate feasts prepared by his mother, who shopped at Laotian grocery stores for ingredients prevalent in Asia.
So when Schwader moved to New York City to begin his culinary career, he was shocked to realize Laotian restaurants were non-existent in the Big Apple. And after he attended culinary school and then worked through the ranks with Iron Chef Marc Forgione at AZ and BLT, Schwader decided he was ready to go out on his own with a restaurant that would pay homage to his heritage. With Forgione's support, the chef opened Khe-Yo (157 Duane Street, 212-587-1089) in Tribeca earlier this year, playing with the flavors of his childhood in an upscale setting.
The Lao canon, he explains, crosses Vietnamese and Thai influences and highlights dishes like Vietanmese influences. Sticky rice, papaya salad, grilled chicken, grilled pork ribs, and laap (chopped meat salads). Dishes are light and bright, and many pack significant heat. "I thought about all the dishes I grew up with that I love eating when I go back home," Schwader explains, "and I did my take on them."
Once rolling with his main menu, Schwader also rolled out Khe-Yosk, a takeaway Vietnamese sandwich joint that operates in a sliver of the Khe-Yo space.
In our interview, the chef weighs in on a stinky Laotian classic he wishes he could put on his menu, why Asian food isn't vegetarian-friendly, and why he'd take jerky to a desert island.
Up next, Schwader talks about his hatred for stinky cheese.