Although Batch may have closed in March, Pichet Ong has been busier than ever these past few months. In addition to opening Spot, his Asian dessert bar with the owners of Michael Huynh’s OBAO, next Tuesday, the 17th, the pastry chef plans to re-open Batch next spring, is working on a new cookbook he’ll publish in 2011, and has two other projects in the works that he’d rather not discuss at the present time. Fork in the Road got a preview of what he’ll be serving at Spot, his long history with Michael Huynh, and the recent evolution of Asian desserts.
So how’d you get involved with Spot?
There’s a bunch of investors who wanted to open an Asian dessert bar. They were told by head hunters to look for me, and got in touch and brought me on board.
Have you known Michael Huynh for awhile?
I’ve known Michael for over 10 years. I met Michael mainly because he was a foodie; we always bonded over food. I knew him before his first restaurant, Bao 111. He renovated my apartment when he was a contractor, and we hung out and ate out.
While you’re busy opening Spot, you’re also planning to re-open Batch. How is that working out?
Batch is now delayed until next spring; my project kind of got bigger than I wanted it to be. I’m opening three places between now and spring, and have to take care of them first. [Batch] is now more like a commissary or foundation for my business — I’ll be producing pastries from Batch [for his other businesses].
What are the other places you’re opening?
You’ll find out. I’m working on coming up with a concept, service concept, and culinary concepts.
What will you be serving at Spot?
There are many treats inspired by my growing up as a child, and all the way up to the present day — everything from tapioca dumplings to classic American sweets like chocolate chip cookies to desserts based on ingredients I like to use as a chef. They’re savory, not necessarily Asian but with Asian influences, like goat cheese cheesecake and miso semifreddo. We’ll have a type of Madeleine they make in Asia that’s cooked on a griddle, pancake-style — it’s more moist because it’s not baked in an oven. We’ll have ice creams and cupcakes. Thai coffee and tea are also one of our main programs. And we’re going to be launching shaved ice. It’s a little late in the season so we might be doing that next year. But we’ll use different exotic tropical fruits; the shaved ice will have actual fruit in it. The ice creams will have Asian flavors like coconut, passion fruit, Ovaltine, green tea, and Vietnamese coffee.
I like all of them for different reasons — I go to all of them. Milk Bar is just David Chang — I don’t think it’s very Asian beyond that. It’s very whimsical American. My desserts are a little bit sweeter and, I don’t want to say classic, but more old-fashioned in terms of cupcakes. But they’re whimsical at the same time. Many of the recipes (for Spot) are from my cookbook, The Sweet Spot.
What’s your new cookbook about?
This one will be like bakery with gourmet desserts you wouldn’t think could be done, like gourmet Hostess cupcakes and gourmet Ho-Hos.
Do you think that people still tend to think of Asian desserts as something of an oxymoron?
It totally is in America, but it’s not like that in rest of the world. I was in Australia and it was like a natural over there. Here, it’s a bit of an oxymoron. Though in the last five years there have been a lot of Asian influences in continental restaurants, like with Claudia Fleming doing coconut tapioca soup at Gramercy Tavern. I don’t want to sound like I’m looking down or have any kind of prejudice against America, but in other parts of the world you see other ethnic types doing different foods and it’s more regular. Like I could do Italian food and no one would be questioning why I’m doing it.