Why We Love Andy Ricker
Andy is as humble as he is highly decorated. He honors the Thai way of cooking by using native ingredients and techniques to bring a taste of the real Thailand to America.
“There’s nothing better you can do for yourself than travel.”
“If I went out there and beat my chest and had an ego, or altered recipes into something they weren't, it would be unacceptable. I make the food as I learned it, and present it as it should be.”
How did you first come into contact with Thailand?
Back in the 80s, I came to Thailand as a backpacker. I was already on a long journey. At that time, Thailand was undergoing a big push to get more visitors. It was mostly targeted to people like me; the promise of beaches, sun and culture.
Do you think the perception of Thai cuisine is changing since you started Pok Pok?
When I opened the first Pok Pok in New York, I'd honestly hoped it would become irrelevant at some point. I thought Thai folks would start opening up restaurants that reflected what I saw in Thailand. And now there are a lot of places in New York that offer specific regional Thai restaurants. I think the landscape around Thai cuisine in the United States has really raised its profile in the past 10 years.
What do you think differentiates Pok Pok from other Thai restaurants?
I think with Pok Pok we've really tried to differentiate the flavors of Thailand that I've experienced myself. Those flavors are hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter. I don't think we've discovered anything new, or that wasn't around in the United States. I just think we've expressed them in a different way; a certain way. If you go to any Thai restaurant, you'll encounter these flavors, it's just a question of how they're presented.
How do the flavor profiles of Thailand change as you go through the different regions?
Well, Thailand is broken up into four distinct regions. There's the north, the Chang Mai region, where the food tends to be herbaceous and bitter. The Northeast which is E-San, the food is quite simple, often being fermented. It's an arid part of the country, so there's use of whatever part of the animal is available. Once you get into the central part, that's where you find what we'd consider "Thai food"—coconut curries, sophisticated salads. The south has a fascinating mix of cultures, with food from the ocean on both sides, lots of rich herbs and coconut creams.
What's the spiciest thing you've ever eaten in Thailand?
There's a misconception that all Thai cuisine is extremely hot and spicy, but actually it's really known for balance. Most often, chiles aren't used to blow your head off, they're used for flavor and maybe preservation. When you get into the south of Thailand, that's a region renowned for, you know, ballistically hot flavors. I think probably the spiciest food I've ever had was on my first trip in a bus terminal. I ordered the only thing on the menu I could recognize, a green curry. Like two bites into it I was dripping with sweat and drank like four sodas, and when I got to the bottom there were like a half-dozen green chiles.
What's your go-to guitar and go-to song to play?
In my old age I've sort of fallen into a vintage guitar collection. When I'm home in Portland, I have a rack with a 1964 Esquire. Depending on what mood I'm in, I might play anything from a Led Zeppelin tune like "Custard Pie," or a Neil Young song, could be The Darkness, it just all depends.
Explore Upcoming Trips with our Tastemakers
Switzerland with Elias Cairo
A seven-day journey through Switzerland with charcuterie expert Elias Cairo of Olympia Provisions. Marvel at the raw majesty of the Swiss Alps. Explore medieval castles and quiet mountain inns. Drink little-known Swiss wines rarely available the world over and celebrate the ancient art of salumeri with one of the world’s true experts.
Mexico City with Patrick Ryan
Aztec pyramids loom below you, hovering in a hot-air balloon in the skies outside the Western Hemisphere's biggest city. With chef Patrick, a lively guy who stresses community and fun, we go ringside at a wrestling match, boat down ancient canals, meet graffiti artists and dine on Patrick's feast in our penthouse suite in hip Condesa. Get ready for fun!
Rep. of Georgia with Bonnie & Israel Morales
Seven days in the Caucasus Mountains with culinary pioneers of foods of the former Soviet Union. We'll learn to make khinkhali (dumplings), stomp grapes as part of some of the world's oldest wine traditions, hike to mountain-top churches, and master the Georgian art of toasting.