Chatting with Ratha Chaupoly About the New Norry at Kampuchea, the Asian Sandwich Craze & Why He Doesn't Want to Be Michael Bao
Ratha Chaupoly and partner Scott Burnett started with a little neighborhood spot on the Lower East Side that quickly got dubbed a Cambodian noodle bar. Earlier this year, they opened their sandwich outpost, Num Pang, smack in the middle of an Asian sandwich craze. Tonight, the duo launch a re-envisioned Kampuchea and brand new annex called The Norry at Kampuchea. Expect a new menu not without some old favorites -- just don't call it a noodle bar. The soups are long gone.
What's the concept for the new space?
It was really built like a travel hub. The physical concept is a play off the "norry," which is a vessel that is used to carry goods from one city to another. We mixed the idea with the New York train system. Linking that to food allowed us to use different spices, different cultures, different techniques.
How is the menu different from the original?
We're doing the sandwiches with sweet potato fries, sweetbreads, Chinese sausages, and a taco made with this crepe that is typical Cambodian. We're making our own ham, which we've always done. One of our biggest obstacles was that, when we started, we really wanted to be a neighborhood place. Then we said, "We should get serious." We were dubbed a noodle bar, but we've always done other stuff.
And the original space has also gotten a facelift?
We're refining the food, refining the service. The room has a slowed-down pace, so we have a chance to do things we haven't done before. The entire menu has changed. We're doing sweet bites, smoking our own fluke, making our own pork sausages. We're focusing on refined techniques. It's about evolving.
You did the decor yourself?
I made changes to the decor, brought more warmth to the space with a hint of modernist. Like the food, the look has always been rustic. Now, we're "rustic, refined." It took a month-and-a-half to get the permit and a month-and-a-half to build it. I did it all myself. I don't work well with designers. I'm a terrible communicator.
How do you feel about the sandwich craze that took Manhattan?
I love it! I swear, it's all about evolving taste buds. Us Asians, we've been eating like this for a long time. When you plan a restaurant, you have to plan years [ahead of time]. So, we were lucky we became part of something like this. How was I supposed to know it would be this crazy?! If I could dictate the world that way, I would be a very sought-after man.
Speaking of sought-after men, what's your take on Michael "Bao" Huynh?
Michael, Michael, Michael. I'm not going to talk about Michael.
I don't believe in what he's doing. I don't believe in opening restaurants and not being there. [He does it] just to make money.
So, whose food does inspire you in the city?
I'm influenced by character. Cyril Renaud at Fleur de Sel, his take on food and his process are amazing. He never got enough accolades or attention. It's unfortunate. Gray Kunz is a great cook. Unfortunately, his venues didn't work out.
Where do you go for comfort food?
There is no Chinatown-style Cambodian food in the city. You know, made-like-your-grandmother-used-to-make style. I still go [to Chinatown], but it's hard to eat there because there's so much MSG. There's a Dominican place near Kampuchea that I go to for fried chicken wings, oxtail stew, and pernil.
What do you have in your fridge at home?
Coconut water, Tabasco, salt and vinegar potato chips, and I make a lot of tomato sauce from scratch and freeze it, so lots of pasta. That's my midnight snack. And I always have wheat bread, Swiss cheese, smoked turkey, mayo and spicy mustard, and tomatoes for a sandwich.
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