Andy Ricker – Hiker, painter…Chef

By Sanique Lim

Underneath his timid and unexpressive personality, hides a marvelous passion that most New Yorkers would never know. We are talking About Any Ricker, of Portland’s Pok Pok restaurant and the 2011 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Northwest award. Recently opening his latest restaurant Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn, chef Ricker has many New York City’s food-fanatics checking their subway map or Google map in their eforts to get to Brooklyn. Andy Ricker, has never stopped his momentum since he was 15 years old.

Talking about how he got started in the culinary world, Andy said it was because of skiing and rock climbing. Skiing and rock climbing? Andy was working in a restaurant as a dish washer when he was 15, determined to make his own money so he could pursue his interests and go around the world.

A few years later, in 1987, his first encounter with his fate happened during a backpacking vacation in Chiang Mai. While he realized that travel wasn’t supposed to be like this; he began to find that his very first Thai dish found its way to his heart through his taste buds: Laab, the famous Northeastern food of Thai and or Laos.

“The really good food in South East Asian countries, usually are found somewhere right beside the street or back alley.” Andy’s eyes begin to brighten while talking about the Thai foods he had experienced back then. “I’m in love, and I’m obsessed with it.” Indeed, it indicates he has combined his enthusiasm and determination to successfully bring great Thai food to food-fanatics like us in New York City.

Andy then further journeyed to Portland in 1990, and worked as a sous chef in the renowned restaurant Zefiro, which would enhance his cooking skills to an even greater level with continued knowledge of East and West culinary assimilation. Interestingly, Andy changed his job to become a commercial painter, “I feel like I’m more than a cook sometimes, more like an artist”, he said humorously, “and fatedly I was given a job to paintseveral restaurants, granting me another great opportunity to learn about restaurant business”.

Pok Pok Wing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Pok Pok NY on Brooklyn’s Waterfront District are Andy’s art masterpieces. Comprised of the recipes he has been collecting for the past 20 years, travelling around the world and garnered the essence of Thai food, where he believes there is no boundary of learning in this culinary, also his personal decorative efforts into the design and equipments of the restaurant. He has made it happen, going up against over 300 Thai restaurants in New York City today, and he doesn’t even serve the classic Pad Thai at any of his restaurants.

However, facing the greatest challenge that could only be found in New York City, Andy has his own philosophy when handling the diversity of customers and their very different preferences for food. Indeed, it is almost impossible to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, especially when it comes to Thai food that Americans have gotten to know over the years. “You cook it your way, and let the customers be the judge; they love it, they will come back again.” He frowned while saying this, but then smiled again, saying, “Nobody is going to force Americans to consume durians, even though you’ve tried to make it taste better for them.”

Andy’s signature dish undoubtedly would be Ike’s Chicken Wings; marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, then tossed in caramelized Phy Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with a Vietnamese table salad. The chicken wings are a tasty combination of sweetness and crispiness.

Pok Pok Wing is located at 137 Rivingron Street in lower Manhattan (212.477.1299); Pok Pok Ny is located in Brooklyn at 127 Columbia Street (718.923.9322). Be sure to stop in the next time you’re hungry from some great tasting Thai food!