Published on March 2nd, 2023 | by Elizabeth Tettleton0
City Grocery Restaurant Group Presents One Night in Snackbar
James Beard Award Winning Chefs Vishwesh Bhatt and Andy Ricker Collaborate to Spotlight Crossover Cuisines Coupled with Mississippi Influences
by Elizabeth Tettleton and Nature Humphries
In a cross-country video conference with a 13-hour time difference, we had the opportunity to chat with Chef Andy Ricker, founder of Portland, Oregon, eatery Pok Pok, which eventually branched out to include locations in New York and L.A. The restaurants garnered accolades and a rabid following until he closed them down during the pandemic. Burned out, Ricker finally made a permanent move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2020.
Although there is no set formula for creating an award-winning, Michelin star-studded restaurateur, Andy found his secret sauce—fish sauce and oyster sauce—while backpacking in Thailand in the 1980s. His obsession with the flavors of Thailand became a passion, and then a career, which led him to create a culinary revolution that encourages Americans to rethink Thai food. Not content with run-of-the-mill Pad Thai or rainbow curries, Ricker painstakingly crafts foods with the obsessive attention of a Jedi master.
From our first hello, Andy’s humbleness and experience were immediately evident as he explained his reasons for coming to Oxford, Mississippi. Chef Ricker enjoys sharing the food culture of northern Thailand with those who have never had a chance to experience it, and he relishes the opportunity to learn from his peers.
Travelling to share his culinary wisdom takes him away from home and family, so Ricker seeks out professionals he admires in the food scene to collaborate with and make the best use of his time while stateside. The folks of Oxford are fortunate because we share a town with Vishwesh Bhatt, an outstanding culinary talent, native of India, and James Beard Award-winning chef who has helmed Snackbar since its inception in 2009. Chef Ricker has been a longtime admirer of Chef Bhatt, and when he was invited to the Charleston Food and Wine Festival this year, he reached out to Vish with the idea of cooking together.
“I’ve been a fan of what [Chef Bhatt] does without even ever tasting his food,” Ricker said. “I look at what he’s doing at Snackbar, his aesthetic, and how he approaches things. He’s my kind of chef—knowledgeable and old-school.”
Ricker also expressed an admiration for Chef Bhatt’s community work, and how he mixes Southern food with his own Indian influences. “I know there’s a story to tell about Indian people in the South,” he said. “I don’t know that story, and I’m eager to find out. It’s educational for me.”
Likewise, Bhatt is eager to welcome Ricker to his kitchen. They plan to incorporate locally sourced products in the menu, including rice and catfish from the Mississippi Delta as well as farmer’s market produce and regional proteins.
“This menu is about highlighting Chef Andy’s brilliance,” said Bhatt. “First and foremost I hope [diners] develop an understanding and appreciation of this food. Second, I hope they [value] Chef Andy’s talent and appreciate that he chose to bring his talents to us. He could have hosted a dinner anywhere in the country but he came here. We are very fortunate and grateful for that.”
Covid-19 caused a halt for many restaurants, but when it hit Pok Pok, it gave Chef Ricker the opportunity to turn his focus to his permanent home: Chiang Mai. Although Ricker visits the United States regularly, he now calls Chiang Mai home, and it is where he gives back to his community with the organization The Food Trust, which he and his wife founded. You can learn more about Chef Andy Ricker on his website, AndyRicker.com, as well as purchase his cookbooks or discover his zero-proof spirit, Sōm, a cane vinegar cordial (Elizabeth enjoyed the Pineapple Szechuan Pepper variety with some Wonderbird gin while researching this story).
At press time, there are still seats available for the collaborative dinner, “One Night in Snackbar.” Visit Eventbrite to reserve tickets. The dinner will take place Friday, March 10, at Snackbar in Oxford. And keep an eye for Snackbar’s other upcoming events; there will be more Food of My People dinners coming this spring and summer, and Chef Bhatt is always cooking up something delightful and inspiring!