The number-nine establishment in our 2014 edition of 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, surprisingly enough, is an American export, Fatty Crab in Hong Kong. Our Special Contributor Elsa Säätelä spoke recently with Rick Camac, co-founder with chef Zak Pelaccio of the New York-based Fatty Crew Hospitality Group, which owns this and two other Fatty Crab restaurants, in New York City and St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands).
What sparked the idea to open Fatty Crab in Hong Kong, of all places?
Our interest there was initially reactive. We had partners who were originally looking in Mumbai and then decided Hong Kong would be better. We met over there and immediately agreed. Of course, the first question we heard from the media over there was "Why bring a Southeast Asian concept to Southeast Asia?" Good question! Our answer was "Don't expect your mom's nasi lemak [a traditional Malaysian dish of rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaf]." This is our American take on Southeast Asian cuisine with a little Southern BBQ in the mix. We're not saying its better — just different. We believe our blend of Western cooking techniques with Southeast Asian cuisine works well and when you add BBQ, it's a completely unique experience.
How would you say the Hong Kong location compares to the original West Village location in Manhattan? Any particular differences, or is the idea more to provide the same food/atmosphere in all locations?
I always say "Fatty is not a menu, it's an experience." That experience is the common thread between everything we do. As we are always local and seasonal, we cannot offer the same menu in all our venues. And there are things we can get in certain places that we cannot get in others — fresh green peppercorns in Hong Kong, chili crab in St. John — where we substitute spiny lobster. Our menus are about 60 percent the same, 20 percent what's local and seasonal, and 20 percent left to the local chef de cuisine to create and stay inspired. That's what truly makes this concept unique and interesting — and also challenging!
Is there anything else interesting or cool about the Hong Kong Fatty Crab that we should know?
Yes. Hong Kong is the first Fatty that is a true prototype for the types of venues we want to roll out going forward: multiple rooms, with one room offering a raw bar with Fatty condiments (a Fatty first), along with a drinking bar. This is for those guests waiting for a table or the ones who just want to come in for a great drink — mixology by Philip Ward — and/or a light bite. A second room is for dining. In Hong Kong the dining room has a second bar. Stay tuned for London coming next!