Pichet Ong’s latest venture, Qi, a traditional yet modern Thai eatery, is possibly the best Thai cuisine we’ve had in Manhattan. Though he has gained accolades and worldwide fame as a celebrity pastry chef, he applies the same careful methodology of balancing flavors to savory food. In the bustling tourist area of Times Square and Port Authority, Qi offers a welcome respite with its downtown feel of a modern and dramatic all white interior, punctuated with banquettes, Lucite chairs, and chandeliers.
Pichet dispels the misconceptions of fast food take out Americanized Thai that has proliferated the city by bringing authentic and well balanced regional dishes which are usually only found 8000 miles away. With lunch specials starting under $8, Qi is long on flavor and favorable to the wallet. Asiance has a chance to speak to Pichet Ong about how he prepares his dishes and what he loves to cook.
ASIANCE: How did you make the transition from a pastry chef to a savory chef?
Pichet: The media tends to consider me a pastry chef but I have a lot more savory cooking experience. I was on the line for a long time at Jean Georges, Tabla, Sono, cooking meat, fish and vegetables in my career. More than half of my career has been in cooking savory food. The food here at Qi, I apply the same flavor profiling to the dishes which is sweet, sour, salty, bitter, the basic elements of Asian cooking.
Ironically, this is something that now the savory chefs are applying to their own food everywhere regardless of their cuisine types. So for me, it wasn’t as much of a transition, it was more of what I was doing.
ASIANCE: How often do you travel to Thailand?
Pichet: Every other year, I have a lot of places that I have to go. The main reason I go is to see my family, but most of them are here or visit here a lot. I take a yearly vacation with my father and quite often it’s not in our hometowns. When I do that, my opportunity to go to Thailand is lessened. I do miss it. I’m from Bangkok, and I miss any city that features food as its prominent strength in its culture.
ASIANCE: How did you come up with the décor?
Pichet: The décor is conceived by one of our principals in the project, Am, he does graphics and all the art direction for the restaurant, from the décor to the uniforms. My contribution is with the music.
ASIANCE: What is your favorite kind of music?
Pichet: I love electronic alternative. I love Ka Ka Pi, Toro y Moi, Tamien Pala from Australia, Mickey Snow, MGMT, Empire of the Sun, Radio Head, and CD Sound system. Music has always been in the foreground for me. I notice it and follow it. Music is part of the décor.
ASIANCE: What are some of the misconceptions of Thai food?
Pichet: That it’s just spicy. If it’s overly spiced, it’s the only note you get. Also that it’s too salty and overly seasoned with those two ingredients. While they are still there, it’s not balanced. Where is the tanginess or bitterness. We do a lot of that in Asian cooking.
ASIANCE: What are some of your favorite dishes?
Pichet: I love the prawns, that are a little burnt on the skin, so it’s a little bitter mixed with the sweetness of the curry. The lemongrass chicken wings that are sweet and spicy, I love. The red vinegar ribs and tea leaf salad is fun, its crunchy and sour from the vinegar, sweet from the palm sugar and bitter from the tea leaves.
ASIANCE: What are some of your favorite ingredients that you like to use?
Pichet: I love citrus, Meyer lemon, key lime, yuzu, oranges. I also like tropical fruits like mango and pineapple. Chocolate, I’m sounding like a pastry chef! I also love protein with wings like squab, foie gras, and duck. I love fish mostly when its raw, particularly oily fish like mackerel to Toro. I love Northern European herbs like tarragon, and aromatic herbs like cilantro.
ASIANCE: Why do you think people crave certain flavors?
Pichet: I guess natural hunger, but salt opens up your palette and is the first thing that you taste.
675 8th Avenue, NY, NY 212 247 8991