Pichet Ong is a busy man, lending his culinary cred to restaurants all over town. His most recent venture is creating the pastry options at Coppelia (207 West 14th Street, 212-858-5001), Julian Medina’s new Cuban restaurant in Chelsea. So we called Ong up to learn more about giving up durian for dulce de leche.
What are you up to these days? You just landed a gig at Coppelia, right?
I’m doing a lot of consulting. I consulted for Max Brenner and his projects. And I did Chozen, the kosher ice cream company, and then after that Coppelia. I’m opening a Thai restaurant this summer and have a kosher bakery and a brasserie coming up.
Wow. That’s a lot. Do you just write the menu, or do you work in the kitchen?
I’ll make the desserts and do the menu. Usually I’m in the kitchen working the line and doing operational training and media anything and then as time goes on, things change.
You hold a master’s in architecture. Has that influenced your viewpoint as a chef?
I’ve always had an eye for design. Not so much in height but for visual color and shapes. I don’t think of dessert in terms of architecture but aesthetics. And you know, I design a lot of my own outfits and shirts.
Really? Do you design them or sew them, too?
I make the first one myself and then I have them sent out.
Do you have a favorite one?
The one I’m wearing now. Are you on Facebook right now? You can see it there. [Ed. note — Pictured on the right.] Do you use Facebook a lot?
I’m very into it and it’s something I love to do. It’s a great way to connect to friends, fans, and the general public. My Facebook is open to the public. It’s my own niche that I can control.
Going back to Coppelia, most of the restaurant’s food comes from a Mexican or Latin culinary tradition, whereas much of your past work has been in the Asian tradition. Was it hard to switch over?
No, not really. There’s a lot of common ground, both in ingredients and textures, between the two. Asians love custards, you know. I’ve gotten lots of Asian customers saying that our desserts are something they could get in Vietnam. And the ingredients too, like tropical fruits — coconut, mango, papaya, rice, corn — these are classic Asian dessert ingredients. But it’s not the first time I’ve done [this style of cooking]. I’ve done all sorts of desserts before. I know I’ve been regarded as an Asian pastry chef, but in reality I’d say American. I’ve learned everything in the country. My favorites are classic American desserts.
So do you have any plans set for after Coppelia?
I’ve been thinking more about my experiences as a child when I was growing up in Southeast Asia. I never went to culinary school, but cooking has always been a family experience for me and that’s what is compelling me to open a Thai restaurant. Many Thai restaurants [in New York] are fast food or fusion. Those aren’t good examples for me of Thai food. I’d like something more authentic. I grew up in a family where we had a chef at home, though she was really more like a housekeeper. But I always gew up eating a mini feast, of five, six, or seven dishes. During the ’70s we had a Chinese chef and going into the ’80s, we had a Thai chef. We had Cambodian, Filipino. Now Burmese. But I want to re-create those Chinese and Thai dishes from my childhood. Most of those types of dishes you won’t find in restaurants here. My restaurant will debut this summer, near Times Square. It’ll have mass appeal.
Finally, our cartoon issue is in the paper this week. What superpower do you most identify with?
Check back tomorrow, when Pichet reveals his all-time favorite candies and junk foods (and there are many).
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