Yesterday, Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz of the popular Cambodian sandwich shop Num Pang sat down with Fork in the Road to talk about personal success, culinary traditions, and their pesky ‘no substitutions’ policy. Today, the friends and business partners continue the conversation and discuss their moody appetites, favorite menu items, and the future of Num Pang.
In the past, you’ve partnered with Mario Batali, Dan Kluger, and Flyod Cardoz to create special sandwiches. How has your respect for tradition and culture factored the final product?
Ratha Chaupoly: We give [those chefs] free range. We literally hand them the ingredients that are essential to all Num Pang sandwiches — cucumber, Pickled Carrots, cilantro and chili mayo — and then we step back as much as possible.
Ben Daitz: The program has worked really well so far. Everybody that we’ve dreamt about working with has participated.
RC: We may move out of the food world into [pauses to look at Daitz]… I guess we can’t say that yet.
BD: I don’t know what he’s talking about. But we’re going to have a lot of fun with the program.
You’ve known each other since college. How do you find working together on a daily basis?
BD: I’m not going to challenge that.
RC: No, really it’s been great.
BD: Partnerships are pretty intense. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families. Do you get along with your family all the time? It’s the same [relationship].
Is any of that time spent together discussing plans for a more formal restaurant?
BD: I have a whole other restaurant group in Brooklyn and Ratha’s had his own place in the past so…
RC: Never say no.
BD: I will say no. He’ll never say no.
RC: He’s not saying no.
BD: No. I am saying no.
Let’s talk about your food. If your sandwiches went head to head with each other, smackdown-style, which one would be the victor?
RC: I’m a very moody eater.
BD: Not just eater.
RC: I like things that are seasonal. If I were to eat today, it would probably be the brisket. In the spring, it’s the shrimp. Actually, I could also go for the Japanese yams, it’s a good balance of savory and sweet.
BD: I have a favorite and it’s the pork belly. It’s an interesting amalgamation. It takes technique and transforms it into something that works pretty well in our format. And then the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
When you’re not eating here, what other restaurants are you visiting?
BD: I try to go out to different places all the time to visit friends and experiment. ABC Kitchen is kind of a go-to spot.
RC: We had a great meal at The NoMad.
BD: Have you heard they do a chicken over there?
You have a third location opening next year. What are your dreams for the future?
RC: We’re always thinking of other things to do.
BD: We like the East Coast but we’ve been approached to open all over the world and one day we’ll take them up on their offers.