Everything’s Just Peachy at Má Pêche

The blue-tiled kitchen is massive—nearly equal in square-footage to the dining room, an anomaly in New York, where most kitchens are packed tight with burners and plating stations inches apart. Here, there is space and order: three chefs at the proteins station, two for fish, one for sides and the sous chef at the top of the key barking instructions: ordering dishes in and out of the oven and "ready to fire." He wears a headband à la Anderson but he comes by it honestly, sweating through a rush of orders and coordinating dishes.
Ho is pragmatic and professorial, filling the gaps in the kitchen and the raw bar wherever an extra set of hands are needed. He graduated UT Austin with a dual degree in Philosophy and History and whopping five minors in Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Mexican-American Studies, Sociology and Anthropology. He thought about PhD’s (hence all the majors and minors) but found his calling serving food to an independent film crew. He then applied to CIA, was denied admission and ended up as an apprentice to Belgian Master Chef Christian Echterbille. Ho planned to apply to CIA again, but Echterbille convinced him to stay in the kitchen and that everything he'd learn at the Institute he already knew. Today we’re making a side dish that could double as a main if one was vegetarian or wanted to skip the beef seven ways (which I can’t imagine willingly doing). The dish is Fairy Eggplant, a variation on a traditional Sicilian side that he hammered out with his friends at Torrisi. “We were trying to elevate the vegetables, how do you take something as lowly as the eggplant and showcase it?” Ho tells me.
This is something Ho has a gift for. The man can make a simple pile of white rice overshadow a perfect steak: his steak frites include “fries” made from a white rice concoction, baked, cut, dusted with rice flour, stacked like Jenga and served with Maggi seasoning and sriracha-infused mayonnaise. It's easy to forget there’s meat on the plate too.
The fairy tale eggplants are small, doll house-sized versions of their plump purple cousins, closer in color to a marbled lavender. We halve the eggplants, scoring the inside of each cross section so the flavors will be absorbed, and sear them in canola oil until they turn deep gold. Next we rehydrate raisins, and put it all aside while making the chili vinaigrette. Central to Ho’s flavors are base condiments you’d find at just about any restaurant in Chinatown—plum paste, black vinegar, sriracha.
The chili vinaigrette is a whirlwind combination of shallots, garlic, ginger, chili flakes, tamarind juice, black vinegar, plum paste and salt, which all ends up being tossed with the raisins, eggplant, mint, thinly-slice scallions, cilantro, mizuna, and crispy shallots. And voila, we’ve made a Capunatina that no one in Sicily would recognize.
The mizuna adds a fresh counterbalance to the eggplant and chili and brings to light Ho’s unusual practice of shopping for seasonal veggies at the Union Sq. Farmer’s Market. He makes a point of leaving the kitchen and meeting the farmers he could just as easily order deliveries from.
Use your lunch hour every day.
Back on the line, dishes are flying out. Chef Ho offers me a taste of the carrots, which are topped with a spectacular green sauce, a puree of blanched carrot tops, bone marrow, chili jam and lime juice. It’s just enough to add tang and earth to the already perfectly roasted vegetables. (And a much better use of carrot top than prop comedy in Vegas.)
Next to the carrots, a grilled cheese is being made. Ho rolls his eyes. All guests of the hotel have the option to order anything off either the Má Pêche menu or a more traditional room service selection, so the kitchen churns out burgers and grilled cheeses as necessary. (And not that they aren’t equally spectacular, but Ho seems almost offended at the lack of curiosity shown by some guests.)

Ho has an unique ability to find completely obscure cuts of meat, ones you and I have never heard of or thought to taste, and tenderize them til they are soft and buttery. Today he’s testing a top rib-shoulder cut, bagging and soaking it in a Cryovac machine in a warm bath (sous vide-style) to break down the collagens and muscular structure. Which is why Má Pêche and its seemingly incongruous location are going to succeed—Ho's knack for transformation. I guess that makes the Fairytale Eggplant a Cinderella story.

In the last installment of Will Work for Food: Going Whole Hog at Pulino's

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