Part one of my interview with Soulayphet “Phet” Schwader ran yesterday, and the Khe-Yo chef talked about his philosophy in the kitchen, his background, and his thoughts on the New York restaurant industry at large. Here in part two, Schwader gets specific divulging restaurants he frequents and lays down some kitchen tips for professional and home cooks.
What chefs or food people do you most admire?
Thomas Keller. Every time I read an article about him or see him in an interview, he teaches me something new. He’s such a smart chef. Marc [Forgione]. He’s such a creative force and people are just naturally drawn to him, but he’s so unpretentious even though he’s on TV and has all these restaurants. Working for Marc is working with the laid-back, down-to-earth chef in the public eye. He gets on the line and cooks.
What brand of knife do you use and why?
Korin is right over here, so a lot of my knives are from Korin. My go-to is a Wusthof 10-inch chef’s knife. It’s like the workhorse. Onions, celery, carrot, bulk. For finer work, I’ll use the Japanese knives. I tell my cooks when they start cooking not to go get a Japanese knife. Get a German knife. Practice sharpening it. German steel can take a beating.
Are you partial to any of your spoons?
Oh yeah. And it’s not even a good spoon. It’s like an 1810 Oneida. Once I lose it in the kitchen, everyone knows that I’ve lost it, because I ask everyone, “Have you seen my spoon? Have you seen my spoon?”
What’s the most underrated kitchen tool?
A Swiss peeler. Saturday nights, we run out of papaya and have to peel it to order. If I have to peel it with something else, it’s like, why am I in the weeds?
Favorite item in your pantry or walk-in?
Kaffir lime leaf. It’s bright and citrusy and goes in so many dishes that I cook. It’s part of what I grew up with, and it’s fun to teach people about it if they’ve never smelled or tasted it. If I could get kaffir lime, that would be even better. I found it at one Thai grocery store, but it’s like $10 for two limes.
What’s the most underrated ingredient?
Rice. My signature dish is coconut rice balls. I sold 40 orders last night. It’s insane how much rice I make. It’s always time to make the coconut rice balls.
At what local bar or restaurant are you a regular?
I really like Ippudo on my days off. It’s just comforting. The Raccoon Eyes. The Reade Street Pub. If I don’t go out to eat, I get Katz’s or Lombardi’s delivery.
What’s the most underrated restaurant in New York City?
Commerce. I had a really good meal there, and to me, when you go to that restaurant, it’s like London. You’re on this back street and then there’s this gem.
Who’s the most underrated culinary figure in New York City?
Telepan gets a lot of press, but sometimes I think he doesn’t get as much press as he deserves. He’s been around for so long. He’s the co-chair of and organization aimed at getting better food system for the schools. He goes out and makes an effort.
At what New York restaurant do you celebrate a special night out?
Sushi Ushiwakamaru–that’s another really underrated restaurant on Houston. I’m kind of over spending $1,000 on a meal. This is a smaller place, and you get good service.
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
Pasta Bolognese. My wife loves my Italian for some reason. One of my mentors growing up was Italian, and he taught me a good start to good tomato sauce: garlic, olive oil, red chile flakes.
What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking?
Practice. Practice makes perfect. I started my career not knowing anything. I really just spend every day practicing.
What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
Braised pork belly with the pork broth.
What are your favorite local purveyors?
Willow Wisp from Pennsylvania. Blue Moon Fish. Fantasy Fruit for strawberries and berries. Stokes Farms. They sell local lemongrass, which is awesome, and they say they’re going to have it until November.
What’s always in your refrigerator at home?
Sriracha. Hoisin. And smoked chile sauce lasts forever, so that. Either I made it made it or my mom sent it to me.
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift?
I love giving mangosteens as a gift when they’re available. They’re something people have never seen, and they’re slimy, weird, and white. Then you take a bite and think, holy shit, that’s really good.