Think you know everything about Thai food? Think again. America’s current reigning Thai expert, Andy Ricker, eats and breathes everything Thai. His love for the cuisine emerged during a backpacking trip he took back in the ’80s. He realized there was a lot more to Thai food than the traditional pad Thai back home in the States. In 2005, Ricker opened his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok.
Despite his establishment and credibility in the space, Ricker still considers himself a student of his passions and continues to learn every day. For at least a month every year, he travels throughout Asia tasting and trying and taking notes for his own culinary empire. Pok Pok was named Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian and ultimately netted Ricker the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Northwest.
The Daily Meal chatted with Ricker about what he’s most looking forward to during the Thai-Licious Journey Campaign, his love for all things Thai, and what’s coming up next.
The Daily Meal: What are you most excited for the Thai-Licious Journey Campaign?
Andy Ricker: The chance to visit parts of Thailand that might be a bit off the beaten path and sample the local cuisine.
What ultimately sparked your interest in Thai cuisine?
Visiting Thailand as a traveler, seeing the culture and food firsthand did it for me.
What is your all-time favorite Thai food that you could never get sick of?
Khao Phat (Thai fried rice) is something that I could never tire of.
What are some of your favorite go-to spots in Thailand?
Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown) is a great place to experience some of the best food Bangkok has to offer. Any wet market in Thailand is worth visiting for a glimpse at the social interaction between Thai people and to see some of the bounty of the land.
If someone were to ask you for a Thailand itinerary, what are the top five places you would tell them to go to?
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Trang, and Khon Khaen are a few of my favorite destinations.
What is a common misconception about Thai food that you want cleared up and for people to understand?
The food of Thailand is very diverse: It changes from region to region, town to town, season by season, and household to household; what we see in the West is just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes Chiang Mai your favorite city in Thailand?
The laid back and friendly nature of the people of northern Thailand, the beauty of the temples and mountains nearby, and the fantastic food culture
Besides Thailand, if you were to open another Pok Pok location, where would it be and why?
Probably Tokyo; I am fascinated by Japanese food culture and I would love to do a condensed version of Pok Pok there.
What do you want your readers to learn and gain from your upcoming books?
A deeper understanding of the diversity of the food of Thailand and a sense of adventure to seek it out.
What is your next culinary adventure?
I would love to dedicate an entire year of study to khanom Thai, the sweet dishes of Thailand.