behind the knives: anthony ricco of spice market

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

It’s said that those who can’t, teach. But when it comes to cooking, Spice Market’s Executive Chef Anthony Ricco is a master at both.

ICE_AR_8.jpg

Before enrolling in a Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education, Ricco was working as a prep cook at the China Grill. He says, “My brother forced me to go to ICE because I was holding on to the brochure for almost a year, and he knew I had talent in the kitchen, but I was wasting it. ICE helped me find my culinary voice by giving me access to quality product and excellent teachers who are very talented chefs.”

After graduation, Ricco worked at a restaurant in Long Island City, then found a position at Jean Georges, where he spent three years working every station in the kitchen. Then, he received an offer to work at one of Jean-George Vongerichten’s other New York restaurants, Spice Market.

Chili tapioca

Chili tapioca

When considering whether or not to take the position, Ricco recalls being motivated by one detail—or rather, one dish: tuna ribbons with chili tapioca, asian pear and lime in a chilled lime-coconut broth. Last month, fifteen lucky students had the chance to relive Ricco’s sense of culinary discovery, in a “Light Asian Flavors” class at his alma mater.

Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

Plating tuna ribbons with chili tapioca and asian pear

It wasn’t Chef Anthony’s first time teaching at ICE. This past winter, I was one of a handful of students who he taught to prepare the “Signature Dishes of Spice Market.” Despite the complexity of the restaurant’s recipes, it was clear that there were intensely flavorful components that I could recreate at home. From the restaurant’s signature chili oil to a spicy, tangy ginger vinaigrette or a crunchy garnish of garlic chips, each element was a clear and accessible entry into the processes by which professionals layer flavor to create a winning dish.

Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Seasoning chicken with an Indonesian spice rub

Needless to say, when I showed up for my second class with Chef Anthony, it was no surprise to see that I wasn’t his only repeat student. This time, I was charged with making white pepper ice cream and a spiced passion fruit simple syrup. Being more of a savory cook, it was a challenge outside my comfort zone, but involved techniques that I was eager to learn.

In fact, that’s where Chef Anthony’s strength lies. He understands that the flavors and culinary style he works with every day are foreign to most American home cooks, and makes sure that every student, no matter what recipe they are personally assigned, has the chance to learn the techniques behind the various elements of each dish. That’s how I ended up not only making ice cream and simple syrup, but also breaking down a chicken and a red snapper (both for the first time).

ICE_AR_10.jpg

And of course, given that he manages a staff of more than sixty at Spice Market, it was no surprise that Chef Anthony was able to supervise and motivate our motley crew of amateur cooks to churn out such advanced dishes. After four hours of cooking, that was the ultimate reward: to be transported by pungent, spicy, sweet flavors to the far reaches of Asia—or at least, Spice Market, which is a destination in itself.

ICE_AR_13.jpg

Tuna and Chili Tapioca with Asian Pear
*Adapted for home cooks by Chef Ricco

Tapioca (about 20 servings)

  • 7 oz. large pearl tapioca
  • 5 shallots peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 ancho chilies toasted and chopped
  • 9 chipotle peppers toasted & chopped
  • 6 dried thai chilies
  • 4 tbs. Annatto seeds
  • ¼ c. Grape seed oil
  • 1 tsp. Cloves toasted
  • 4 cinnamon sticks toasted and smashed
  • 1 tbs. Sichuan peppercorns crushed
  • 4 tbs. Salt
  • 3 tbs. Sugar
  • 7 c. Water
  • Chili oil
  • 1 tsp. Salt to finish

Sweat all but tapioca, sugar, salt and water in oil until golden. Add water, salt and sugar and bring to boil, simmer for 30 minutes then strain thru a chinois. Bring back to a boil then add tapioca and cook, stirring until clear. Drain under cold running water until cool. Put in a container and just cover with chili oil, then season with salt and reserve.

Lime-Coconut Broth

  • 5 stalks lemongrass
  • 40 kaffir leaves washed & chopped
  • 1 green finger chili washed & chopped
  • 3 c. coconut juice
  • ¾ c. coconut milk
  • ¾ c. lime juice + 3 oz to finish
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1½ tsp. Salt

Clean, crush and finely chop lemongrass. Combine coconut juice, milk, chili, lime juice, sugar and salt and bring to boil. Add lemongrass and kaffir, mix well and let cool, uncovered. Strain through chinois and finish with lime juice.

To Serve

  • Tuna
  • Tapioca
  • Asian pear, peeled, cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Jicama, peeled and cut into ¼” diamonds
  • Red bell pepper char grilled, peel, cut in ¼” diamonds
  • Scallion greens cut on bias
  • Lime coconut broth

Slice tuna into 1” long, ½” wide and ⅛” thick pieces. Serve 10 pieces per plate. Arrange in a chilled shallow medium size bowl and fold each piece in half. Season tuna with salt then scatter with chili tapioca, then with jicama and pear. Sprinkle with scallions and then scatter with red pepper. Cover halfway with coconut-lime infusion and serve.

recipe: kimchi soup

Having successfully made it through winter without a flu shot or the flu, I was taken aback by a head cold at the beginning of March. Sluggish and phlegmy, but not sick enough to stay home from work, I needed a cure - and fast. Immediately, I thought of a spicy kimchi soup I once tried at Seoul Garden in Korea town. Since I was sick, I didn't take the time to research traditional kimchi soups; rather, I based this version off ingredients already in my pantry/refrigerator. I was stunned with how well it turned out, and it certainly sped up my healing process. To boot, I liked it so much that I made a second batch, adding in some leftover pulled pork that I had frozen from my last supper club. What I've posted is the basic recipe, but feel free to add extra heat, protein or whatever else strikes your fancy.

IMG_0636

Kimchi Soup

Prep: 5 minutes; Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 cups broth (of choice - I used a combo of chicken and vegetable)
  • 1 head *napa cabbage, roughly chopped (bite size)
  • 1/2 jar kimchi
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 jalapeno, small dice
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tbsp tumeric
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • salt (to taste)

Instructions

  1. Quickly heat tomato paste in the bottom of your soup pot, over medium heat. Add broth and turn to high heat.
  2. Add kimchi, lemon juice, napa cabbage and jalapeno.
  3. Once mixture is fully heated, add ginger powder, tumeric, paprika, salt and stir. (Adjust spices/salt to your personal taste, as needed.)
  4. Heat until stalks of napa cabbage are tender. Serve piping hot.

*Savoy or green cabbage will also work, if napa is not available at your grocery store. (You may notice, in my picture, that I used savoy cabbage, since I couldn't find napa for my second batch.)

eater's digest: the toucan and the lion

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo For as long as I can remember, breakfast has been my least favorite meal. I used to eat my mother's leftovers - everything from carrot cake to reheated chili - for breakfast on the weekends. It was a culinary victory over the practical constraints of weekday morning sustenance. So, in theory, I always have appreciated the transitional meal of brunch, which made it socially acceptable for me to eat savory while my friends and family opted for sweet. Unfortunately, many restaurants seem to miss the brunch boat, simply serving both breakfast and lunch options, rather than embracing the creativity of this fusional meal. Among the few restaurants that I feel "do it right", an increasing number are asian-influenced, like the East Village's The Toucan and the Lion.

The first unusual aspect of the Toucan is its comfortable, design-y ambiance. It feels more like eating in your very chic friend's kitchen than a hip new restaurant.

Feet swinging over the cozy carpet (when was the last time a restaurant had carpet?), we perused the menu of reinvented classics. The Lion Stack, a duo of corn pancakes served with sunny side up eggs, bacon and salsa verde had instant savory draw. The golden-brown cakes were perfect - both crumbly and moist - with a mild sweetness that balanced out the dish's bolder flavors.

The Short Rib Benedict was a heavier spin on this already-rich breakfast classic. It lacked the spices and acid of my favorite asian meat dishes, but was still a filling, comforting choice. On the other hand, the seemingly unexciting Huevo Burrito turned out to be outstanding. Spicy and veggie-centric, it did not succumb to the dry or sloppy, wet extremes of other breakfast burritos. Rather, it neatly satisfied from the first bite to the last.

The one must-order dish on the menu, however, was the Taro Hash. Lighter and less greasy than your typical morning potatoes, this cilantro-topped, spiced dish inspired audible raves from multiple tables in the restaurant. (We literally negotiated who would nab the last bite.)

Even if the Toucan isn't the absolute "best" brunch I've tried in New York, it certainly is one I'll return to again. If only because - innovative cuisine aside - it was an unusually hype-free weekend meal. No long lines, no excessive day-drinking - just good food in a cozy, tranquil environment.

The Toucan and the Lion 342 E 6th Street 212.375.8989