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Q & A With Pichet Ong

On the eve of P*ONG’s official New York Times review, we thought it supremely apropos to check in with Pichet Ong, the owner & executive chef of NYC’s newest dessert bar.  Who knows how many stars Bruni’s willing to stamp on this sleek Chelsea nook, but the zealous pastry set have already given Ong an overwhelming nod of approval.  Unlike other pastry bandwagoners, Ong doesn’t rest on his sweet creations, but instead does an impressive job with the savory bites: stilton souffle, escarole green goddess salad & wagyu carpaccio with shiso pesto.  But to deny yourself dessert at P*ONG would be downright senseless; Especially when the offerings are as exotically sinful as chevre cheesecake croquette, miso ice cream and an extra virgin olive oil cake sandwich with wasabi candy and
strawberries.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
More grown up than I already am?  I wanted
to be an architect when I was younger and even went to school for it.
 

What was your first job in food?
The Kosher kitchen at the Brandeis University dining hall. 

Are you nervous about being reviewed?
I didn’t expect to be reviewed.   I don’t really want to be reviewed.  There’s no need.

After working with Jean-Georges, what
inspired you to venture off on your own and open a dessert bar?

At Jean-Georges, I did savory.  Then I left to do pastry for Jeffrey Zakarian when he opened Patroon and Rick Moonen at RM.  Along the way, I went back and created the dessert menus for Jean-Georges at 66 & Spice Market.  But I wanted to have my own business where all my
visual and intangible ideas can be realized.  Hence P*ONG, which is not
necessarily a dessert bar.
 

While many restaurants seem to be eliminating
the position of pastry chef or outsourcing their sweets, you’ve fully embraced
dessert as an entire genre of dining. Were you ever worried it would fail?

Yes, I do worry that it might
fail.  But then again this seems to be the common thought among all types
of restaurants.

You’ve actually
received a tremendous amount of praise for the savory as well as the sweet side
of your menu. Did you first architect
the sweet creations and then pair them to the savories?

Actually, I do them both simultaneously.  I start
with the seasonal ingredients I’d like to feature on the menu, and then create
dishes from there, not necessarily starting of with a genre.

How have you
integrated your time spent abroad – Singapore, Thailand,  and Hong Kong –  into P*ONG’s menu?

Being exposed to so
much resources in terms of ingredients I discovered in Southeast Asia and everywhere else, I incorporate them into familiar dishes that I love.
 

Most people don’t
probably don’t know that you have a masters degree in architecture from UC
Berkeley. That’s quite a career change –
what was the impetus to move to cooking?

I graduated at the time when computers were being introduced
to architecture and design.  (I think I’m giving away my age now.)  I
didn’t want a desk job, I like to work with my hands.

What’s your favorite
dish on P*ONG’s menu, and why?

I love the foie gras
brulee on pistachio biscotti with cherries and biscotti jelly.  It seems
that every pastry chef loves foie gras, including myself, it’s something I put
on the menu so I can have it everyday.

Did you design
P*ONG’s space? Does what you learned
influence the designs and plating techniques of your desserts?

The space was designed by Andre Kikoski.  This was
based upon a lot of visual shapes, styles, and colors that I love.
 I’ve always loved the combination of red & green, wood & metal, circles & rectangles.  When my colleagues come into the space, they tell me it reminds them of my paintings from college.

What’s your least
favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?

Least favorite might
be the Vietnamese coffee and mango tapioca affogato with walnut cookie
crumbs.  Let’s just say a lot of people who walk into P*ONG expect Asian
desserts and hence. they aim straight towards the tapioca dessert.  It is a
popular one and I love the dish anyway.

What is your junk
food of choice?

Potato chips and corn
chips from Lay’s.

Other than your own,
what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?

There are too many to
mention.  But I have dim sum (almost) every Monday when I’m off. Dim sum
in Chatham Square in Chinatown.

What culinary trend
do you most embrace?

The dessert (or pastry chef-driven
business) trend.

What trend do you
wish would die already?

I believe there is
always room for more of anything in the business.

What’s next on the
horizon for you? Any new ventures or
restaurants in the works? Spill the
beans…

I’m actually doing a cupcake shop next door: vanilla, chocolate, yuzu & cinammon will be my staples.  I want to add a little salt & spice to my take on them.   I’ll also be doing seasonal specials, but those are my everyday flavors. 

What’s your take on frosting then?
I prefer butter over shortening, better flavor. 

Any other projects in the works?
A bakery…followed by a Chinese restaurant maybe.

Address: 150 W. 10th Street
Phone: 212.928.0898

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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