What do you get when you cross a former Junior Ping-Pong champion with a practicing Buddhist, a family of Jewish deli owners, and a freewheeling, backpacking, barbecuing sensibility? Will Horowitz, the executive chef/co-owner of Ducks Eatery, in New York’s East Village.
At the laid-back Ducks, Horowitz unites the best of his grandfather’s New York delis and Long Island fisherman days, his own travels in far-flung Burmese and Thai villages, his love for southern ’cue, and his thirst for new experiences. (As a teenager, Horowitz packed his New York bags and moved to Colorado to pursue skiing; later, he backpacked around Asia until he ran out of money and returned to New York.) So yes, there’s brisket. And Horowitz’s smoked boudin noir comes with a side of Korean kimchi; in his red beans and rice it’s coconut rice with a lamb’s breast alongside; and beef back ribs are served with harissa and mint. “We’re purely about the food—there’s nothing else,” he told one interviewer who asked him to put a label on his food. “There’s no gold foil or anything. It is what it is.”
Growing up in White Plains, New York, the son of a Ping-Pong champion who also happens to be a cardiologist, Horowitz followed in his dad’s footsteps and won a slew of Junior Ping-Pong tournaments.
So when the New York branch of the Ping-Pong club SPiN was opened in 2009 by partners that included Susan Sarandon, Horowitz was the man they wanted to run the club restaurant.
In 2012 Horowitz went out on his own to open the East Village Ducks Eatery, with sister Julie Horowitz as general manager, Dave Milburn as chef de cuisine, and Steve Laycock as bar manager. But with this chef, who has always sought the nontraditional, his ideal restaurant is yet to come. “I want a restaurant and life completely off the grid, based entirely on foraging, hunting, husbandry, and permaculture,” Horowitz told an interviewer from the website deathandtaxes.com. “Without having to use much refrigeration and definitely no gas but really utilizing heritage techniques, dry-curing, smoking, fermenting, root cellars…. I like the Zen Buddhist Shinjinmei proverb ‘Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.’”