BIG BITES IN THE BIG AP­PLE

FROM DEEP- FRIED CHICKEN TO FINE- DIN­ING FOAMS, AND FROM FAM­ILY MAN TO FOOD WAR­RIOR, THIS NEW YORK- BASED NEW ZEALAND CHEF LOVES HIS KAI – IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS LEE - ANNE DUN­CAN PHOTOGR APHS MAT THEW WI L L IAMS

A Kiwi chef makes his mark ( and his home) in New York

UP THE STEEP-STEPPED STOOP of a Brook­lyn brown­stone, a pork shoul­der is be­ing trans­formed into a Korean favourite. Our sought-af­ter chef has friends due for din­ner on this molten New York day. And what is he cook­ing? “I’ve al­ready of­fered up 100 re­ally great turnkey dishes, but he’s re­jected them all,” says An­thony’s wife Kai Mathey, of her quick-to-cook sug­ges­tions. “His ex­act words were, ‘I want to do some­thing crazy.’”

By birth An­thony Hoy Fong is a third-gen­er­a­tion Auck­lan­der of Chi­nese de­scent; by ca­reer he is a New York culi­nary star. To­day his brand of ‘crazy’ is be­ing ap­plied to a bone­less 3.5kg shoul­der of pork – very happy, free-range pork, of course. Af­ter mar­i­nat­ing, it will be slow-cooked as the Korean dish, bo ssam.

Ide­ally that would take eight hours, but the pres­sures of fam­ily life, and the small mat­ter of a mag­a­zine in­ter­view, means a quicker cook. It’ll still be de­li­cious, served fam­ily-style to be pulled apart, spooned into let­tuce cups with juli­enned veg­eta­bles, then doused in one of four dip­ping sauces that An­thony will chop, blitz and mix.

An­thony shares this brown­stone in the Park Slope neigh­bour­hood with his Amer­i­can wife Kai, whom he met on the first day of class at the French Culi­nary In­sti­tute 12 years ago. The cou­ple has a three-year-old daugh­ter, Au­gust, and one-year-old son, Cameron. An­thony trav­els fre­quently as a con­sul­tant chef and Kai is chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of food site, tast­ingtable.com. “At the mo­ment I have projects in Dubai, Colom­bia, Mex­ico, Costa Rica – and then there’s all my travel across the US. I’m home only one week a month. It’s only pos­si­ble be­cause Kai is very pa­tient, and we have great sup­port to help with the kids.”

It’s a very busy life in one of the world’s busiest cities, in a highly com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try where “there are 100 other peo­ple ready to do your job.”

An­thony’s en­ergy, hu­mour and hos­pi­tal­ity – the very im­age of the mod­ern restau­ra­teur – is pro­jected at his own es­tab­lish­ment, The Twenty, in nearby Wil­liams­burg. It’s an up­mar­ket ‘dive bar’, a per­fect latenight han­gout for the neigh­bour­hood’s hip­sters and hos­pi­tal­ity types.

“It’s busiest be­tween two and four in the morn­ing so I go in to make sure ev­ery­thing’s com­ing out right and to get feed­back,” says An­thony. “Yeah, not great hours for a fam­ily man.”

The Twenty, un­sur­pris­ingly, has a killer menu. More sur­pris­ing per­haps (while no re­flec­tion of An­thony’s af­fec­tion for An­tipodean dishes), the food of­fer­ing fea­tures few Kiwi clas­sics nor does it overtly ref­er­ence his Chi­nese her­itage.

“It is all about sim­ple well-ex­e­cuted clas­sics, like a grilled cheese sand­wich with four cheeses, spicy buf­falo pop­corn, and re­ally fancy dev­illed eggs. Yes, you can have fancy dev­illed eggs…”

And there’s a great burger – the num­ber one restau­rant item in the US. Ap­par­ently, the se­cret is in the but­tery brioche bun and the 80/20 mix of meat to fat to get the bal­ance be­tween carameliza­tion and flavour.

The Twenty re­cently ex­panded to cold-brew cof­fee and brunch – some­thing An­thony did with trep­i­da­tion. “Brunch is a beast. You want to scream be­cause it’s fast and fu­ri­ous. You might have 250 peo­ple through the doors in the space of two hours and ev­ery­one wants eggs done dif­fer­ently. You only go for that when all sys­tems are run­ning smoothly.”

Which should be a snap for a chef very much in de­mand as a star con­sul­tant set­ting up count­less kitchens of all stripes around the US. Clients have even in­cluded the White House – the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, to be clear.

An­thony’s com­bi­na­tion of culi­nary and busi­ness skills is rare in a chef, for which he cred­its his di­verse back­ground. That in­cludes a few years in Welling­ton work­ing in IT (and cook­ing pots of green chicken curry in his Ghuznee Street flat), run­ning his par­ents’ fruit and veg­gie store in Auck­land, then fol­low­ing his heart to culi­nary school in New York and work­ing “on the line” in the city’s top restau­rants. “My wide ex­pe­ri­ence helps me ap­pre­ci­ate the big pic­ture. It’s all about ef­fi­ciency in the restau­rant busi­ness, ask­ing, ‘How can I squeeze my in­gre­di­ents to bring costs down 0.5 per cent?’”

For the past six years An­thony’s been us­ing his knowhow to con­sult on the Emmy Award-win­ning show, Top Chef. Lever­ag­ing the show’s pop­u­lar­ity, he’s launched the se­ries’ suc­cess­ful line of frozen food, along with other branded ven­tures. “A com­pany will have an idea of some­thing they want to cre­ate with Top Chef. I’ll help them, us­ing my knowl­edge of what Amer­i­cans like to eat and my culi­nary knowl­edge. I love all sides of this busi­ness – the cre­ativ­ity, the peo­ple, the ser­vice, even the brand­ing and the mar­ket­ing.”

An­thony’s al­ways keen to share his love with others, which brought him to de­velop Top Chef Univer­sity. “Since Kai and I were at culi­nary school, the food in­dus­try has ex­ploded. Culi­nary school is great but very ex­pen­sive. I wanted to bring our ex­pe­ri­ences to the masses, so I cre­ated a video-based train­ing plat­form repli­cat­ing culi­nary school.”

Home cooks pay a sub­scrip­tion then fol­low a syl­labus right up to ad­vanced molec­u­lar cook­ing, re­versed spher­i­fi­ca­tion, cold smok­ing, gels and foams.

There’s no of­fi­cial qual­i­fi­ca­tion but these new skills are bound to im­press guests. “It’s ed­u­ca­tion meets entertainment, with real in­for­ma­tion from real chefs avail­able wher­ever you have in­ter­net. You set up the iPad in your kitchen and cook along with the in­struc­tors.” Af­ter six years, Top Chef Univer­sity has more than 10,000 mem­bers around the globe.

With An­thony’s world so food fo­cused, is it any won­der his wife’s name is Kai? “Yes, I did tell her it means ‘food’ in Māori when we first met,” he says. “It’s not a pick-up line if it’s true, right?”

Ei­ther way the two hit it off and even though they’re both in the food trade, their only com­bined projects so far are two chil­dren and the circa-1800s brown­stone they’re re­vamp­ing.

An­thony’s more than happy to jump into his stillto-be-fin­ished kitchen to get on with his bo ssam. “It’s a re­ally good dish for en­ter­tain­ing as the work’s all done ahead of time, so when peo­ple come you just throw it into the mid­dle of the ta­ble.

“A bo ssam is all about the crispy veg­eta­bles and the sauces. I’ll do a sriracha, a spicy, fiery dip­ping sauce. And I’ll do a green chilli co­rian­der sauce with puréed fresh ginger, gar­lic and soy. I’ll have a spicy peanut sauce, with peanut but­ter, chillies and gar­lic. Then, fi­nally, a hoisin sauce.

“To eat, you bounce around hav­ing a bit of chilli with your pork and veg­eta­bles, then a bit of co­rian­der sauce, then the savoury hoisin or the fatty peanut sauce. They’re the best kind of meals, with a lot of dif­fer­ent flavours and tex­tures.”

This kind of eat­ing, with ev­ery­one dip­ping in and out, tak­ing what they want any old how, is a long way from the minutely com­posed plates of haute cui­sine. It’s about fam­ily.

“As a chef, you need to cook for the en­vi­ron­ment,” An­thony says. “When I started out, I worked here in New York at Daniel, a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant. I went home for Christ­mas and I was so ex­cited to cook for my fam­ily – you know, ‘I’m a big chef in New York. Mum, Dad, I’m cook­ing tonight.’ And I did an elab­o­rate meal with ba­con-wrapped scal­lops, duck con­fit, on su­per-com­posed plates.

“While they loved it, it was weird be­cause it was re­ally for­mal. Ev­ery­one was a bit un­com­fort­able be­cause I was in the kitchen be­ing su­per in­tense and putting out plates that would be right in a Miche­lin­starred restau­rant. But it was to­tally the wrong en­vi­ron­ment. That’s why burg­ers and fries or pulled pork in let­tuce cups have their home, just like any fancy meal does.”

Grow­ing up in Auck­land, An­thony was al­ways cook­ing with his mother and grand­mother (his grand­mother’s Can­tonese spare ribs re­main his favourite dish). In fact, as Kai points out, from the age of 10 he of­ten cooked his own din­ner. “That’s right,” says An­thony. “I’d turn my nose up at what Mum was mak­ing and she’d say, ‘As long as you clean up, cook what­ever you want.’ I’d sauté my own stir-fry, cook my own pork chop or chicken wings.”

Per­haps to avoid the same sit­u­a­tion, An­thony and Kai strive to in­tro­duce their kids to a va­ri­ety of food. “Last night I made some grilled Mex­i­can street corn, which has chilli pow­der, lime and co­rian­der. I was go­ing to do an un­dressed one for Au­gust but thought, ‘No, why? She should eat what we eat un­til she says oth­er­wise,’” says An­thony.

The idea of get­ting kids eat­ing well is be­hind his re­cent as­so­ci­a­tion with a pi­lot pro­gramme run by the New Zealand char­ity Kid­sCan. He’s de­vel­oped menus of tasty, nu­tri­tious and eas­ily pre­pared meals for early child­hood cen­tres, us­ing do­nated food.

“In lower so­cio-eco­nomic ar­eas, some kids turn up [to early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres] with no break­fast and no lunch, so this gives them ac­cess to meals that will im­prove their abil­ity to fo­cus and con­cen­trate. It’s ul­ti­mately aimed at giv­ing them an equal op­por­tu­nity in ed­u­ca­tion and, I hope, in­tro­duces them to healthy foods they will like.”

In his own fam­ily, while Cameron’s taste­buds are prov­ing a lit­tle tricky to ac­com­mo­date, Au­gust al­ready has a taste for cor­ni­chons, ca­pers, smoked salmon, and more. “There’s a lot of good food in our house­hold,” says An­thony.

“And it’s so nice to be with some­one who gets it,” re­sponds Kai.

An­thony’s wife Kai Mathey and their chil­dren Au­gust ( 3) and Cameron (1) in the fam­ily’s Brook­lyn lounge.

De­mand for his con­sult­ing ser­vices keeps An­thony away from home at least three weeks in a month, so the time he has grounded at the fam­ily’s Brook­lyn brown­stone is pre­cious. While Kai is Amer­i­can (from Michi­gan) the chil­dren are sur­rounded by reminders of their dual her­itage, such as the kitchen wall hang­ing. OP­PO­SITE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: An­thony and Kai’s bright, white lounge looks out onto a leafy Park Slope street; Kai, Au­gust, An­thony and Cameron on the brown­stone’s stoop; the cou­ple bought the circa-1800s three- storey house 18 months ago from an older fam­ily who’d owned it for 50 years. “There were Rea­gan- era ap­pli­ances in the kitchen,” says Kai. Luck­ily many orig­i­nal fea­tures, such as this mar­ble fire­place, sur­vived ear­lier ren­o­va­tions; An­thony cooks in the re­vamped – al­beit tem­po­rary – kitchen.

LEFT: An­thony and Au­gust at restau­rant The Twenty in Wil­liams­burg, which An­thony owns with fel­low New Zealan­der Ja­cob Wil­lis. While it has re­cently opened for brunch, The Twenty is best known as a late- night spot, serv­ing “dive bar clas­sics” such as grilled cheese sand­wiches and burg­ers. An­thony’s cold- brew cof­fee uses or­ganic, fair-trade, sus­tain­ably sourced cof­fee. “It has a silky smooth tex­ture, great colour and you don’t lose any aro­mat­ics or flavour. Wil­liams­burg is a cof­feesnob area so we have to have great cof­fee.”

Recipe For An­thony’s Bo Ssam (Korean Pork Let­tuce Wraps) recipe visit thisn­zlife.co.nz

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