Pok Pok Ny's Andy Ricker: Free Rice Is an American Invention, and the Word "Authentic" Pisses People Off

Categories: Chef Interviews

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Celeste Sloman
He might be an out-of-towner, but so far, Andy Ricker hasn't found much use for the PR firms employed by most of this city's biggest restaurants--the Portland restaurateur's reputation preceded his Big Apple entrance, and since landing a year and a half ago, he's had no trouble netting press or crowds at the Lower East Side's Pok Pok Phat Thai (originally Pok Pok Wing), Pok Pok Ny (127 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, 718-923-9322), or recently opened Whiskey Soda Lounge Ny, just a half-block from his restaurant on the Columbia Waterfront.

Now one of the most prolific members of the national restaurant scene, Ricker got a less-than-glamorous start in restaurants in Vermont. "I was a dishwasher at a fondue restaurant," he explains. "That's a ridiculous way to enter the industry, scrubbing baked on cheese off pots. But the town I grew up in was a ski resort, and I could either do that or go work at a gas station."

He'd later skip town for another winter destination, and he spent a few years living as a ski bum in Vail, working in restaurants before the now iconic destination was much more than a potato field and a few lifts. "I got a job in the deli, and my choices were cook or be front-of-house," he says. "I cooked because you got a free ski pass."

He left Vail to travel the world, working everywhere "from a Hooters-style place in Sydney to super high-end fine dining" along the road. When he settled in Portland, he landed in the kitchen at Zefiro, a now-defunct spot from a couple of guys from San Francisco that Ricker says was "a whole new breed of Portland restaurant" where many current eateries trace their roots back to.

That was his last job as a cook, and after a short stint as a bartender made him realize that watching people eat made him feel sick, he took an eight-year break from the biz and worked in construction. That job gave him plenty of time to travel, and he soon fell in love with the food of Chiang Mai in northeastern Thailand. So in 2005, he returned to the restaurant world with Pok Pok, the impetus for a bicoastal empire with a fervent following.

In this interview, he talks about what he wasn't prepared for in coming to New York, a person he thinks gets too little credit, and why food blogging is destroying restaurant reviewing.


Location Info

Pok Pok NY

127 Columbia St., New York, NY

Category: Restaurant


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7 comments
VanBree
VanBree

At least Andy is no longer in Portland where he started Pok Pok and bored us all to tears with his greater-than-gold diatribe about bringing Thai street food to the poor idiots of the Northwest. Portland already had a long history of excellent and authentic Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. And yes, they include free rice, it's a long tradition in the USA, like serving water (with ice) for free and leaving tips. If people in NYC are used to getting free rice with Thai food, then give it to them. Costs you almost nothing and keeps you from sounding like a greedy foodie shmuck. Oh, and when did saying 'fuck' over and over in an interview become cool?

Dutty D Comedian
Dutty D Comedian

I tell you..if authentic thai places actually got as much publicity as pok pok.

livemyfantasy
livemyfantasy

"High-quality jasmine rice from Thailand costs more than $1 a pound, and you have to be careful in how you prepare it. We don't charge that much money for our food, so I don't feel bad about charging $2 or $3 for rice. "

Worst. Argument. Ever.

1lb of rice makes 6-10 servings and costs you a WHOLE dollar! Awwww, poor baby. So you're willing to have disgruntled customers feel nickel and dimed over 15 cents a serving? For something every other place gives away for free, from the cheapest take-out to the highest rated can't-get-a-reservation hotness of the moment?

Get off your high horse and roll the 15 cents per serving into your entree prices like every other damn restaurant instead of leaving your customers feeling taken advantage of. 

Can't wait for you to open your next hip Italian restaurant where you'll charge for the table side olive oil and butter because the good stuff is "expensive". wtf. 

numystic
numystic

I took cooking classes in a small village named Pai in Northern Thailand up by the Burmese border and in all my travels in Thailand I was never once charged for a bowl of plain rice when ordering a dish that was meant to be eaten with it. Sticky rice, yes, plain rice? Never. 

Perhaps the word authentic pisses this jerk off because he knows he can't compete on that front? As I've never once heard anyone else complain about the term when applied to deserving spots. 

So instead the baseless bluster sounds like an insecure and defensive Farang knowing he's coming into a market filled with tons of actual Thai ex-pats serving 100% genuine fare at many well regarded places all over the city. 

$3 bowls of rice and people are pissed off by the word authentic? More like people are pissed off by entitled twats that don't have a clue and lack the class to promote their own fare on it's own strengths. 

numystic
numystic

 @VanBree Not to mention that I've been to Northern Thailand twice and even took cooking classes in a small village named Pai up near Burma. I never once got charged for a bowl of plain white at a restaurant there so this guy's entirely full of shit. 

Of course he doesn't use the word Authentic and tries to denigrate it, because he can't compete on that front and would be laughed at if he tried. Here in NYC we've got a plethora of places like Sripraphai that offer exactly the fare that I had all over Thailand and he knows it.

All of that said, if his food really is great I'll be happy to give it a fair shake,  but the laughable argument for $3 bowls of white rice and attack on traditional/authentic purveyors of food just make him come across like an entitled foodie twat whose bluster betrays his insecurity as a Farang making his name in Thai when there are so many actual Thai ex-pats already established in the same market. 

Um...Yeah.
Um...Yeah.

@livemyfantasy Butter is rarely served with bread at an Italian restaurant with. You should get out more.

livemyfantasy
livemyfantasy

@Um...Yeah. @livemyfantasy

Spare me. The revealing word in your own reply is "rarely". 

Anyone that does dine out with any regularity at a wide variety of restaurants most certainly comes across it often enough for the analogy to be understood. This includes many of the (gasp! supposedly) finer establishments despite the fact you'd be hard pressed to find either oil or butter put out with the typically salted bread offered at actual Italian restaurants… you know, the ones in Italy. Only time you're likely to be dipping bread there is at an annual oil tasting. 

See how obnoxious that kind of snobbery sounds? If not, perhaps you're the one that should get out more. 

Doesn't matter if you've got grinders stocked with the finest Tellicherry or Lampong peppercorns, charging customers a la carte for something complimentary virtually everywhere else (including places far less AND more expensive) is never going to play well period. Going on to acknowledge openly that it only costs pennies per serving as part of the justification only hurts the case being made.

My point is a perceptual one. We all pay for our rice anyway since it's built into the entree price everywhere else. He's just making a terribly ineffective argument for doing otherwise when in one breath he talks about not charging much for his food… meanwhile defending $2-3 bowls of plain jasmine rice. The argument defeats itself.


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