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