Portland chef Andy Ricker is on a mission: “I want Americans to think of Thai food as one of the world’s great cuisines,” he says, “deserving a greater level of respect than it gets now.” Ricker is well on his way to making that happen, with restaurants serving food not necessarily in the way Americans have become accustomed to it but in the way it’s cooked and served in Thailand. “We don’t do fusion,” says Ricker.
In Portland, he launched Pok Pok (named Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian), Pok Pok Noi, Ping (now closed), the Whiskey Soda Lounge (serves Thai drinking food), and, most recently, Sen Yai (spotlighting Kuaytiaw the noodles of Thailand). Then, going bicoastal, he opened Pok Pok Ny, Pok Pok Wing (now closed), and Pok Pok Phat Thai (a pad Thai joint), and Whiskey Soda Lounge Ny in New York City.
Voted the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef/Northwest in 2011, Ricker, a native Vermonter, discovered the tastes of Thailand by backpacking through the country starting in the late eighties, and spending time with a friend who lived there and who introduced him to the dishes of northern Chiang Mai and Isaan. While Ricker had also explored Australia and New Zealand (working his way around restaurants), it was the Thai flavors that grabbed him. In 2005, he brought Pok Pok to Portland, and immediately gained a solid fan base that continues to grow.
Ricker has also taken to writing about the food he loves. In 2013 he published his first cookbook, Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand with Thai Drinking Food due in fall 2016, and Sen Yai Noodles due in fall 2017. He also won a 2014 James Beard award for “The Star of Siam,” a piece he wrote for Saveur magazine.
Traveling every year to Thailand helps Ricker stay close to the source and explore new foods and ideas. And what he brings back, explains Providence Cicero of the James Beard Foundation, Ricker brings “with all its sweet and sour, fire and funk intact.”