The founder of the Fatty Crab and Fatty ’Cue restaurants, which have locations in New York and St. John, recently recounted his own culinary travels in “Eat With Your Hands.”
Pelaccio will be signing books at Williams-Sonoma at Legacy Place in Dedham on June 22.
Q. You lived and cooked in Kuala Lumpur after college and that Malaysian influence factors heavily into your restaurants’ menus and this book. Is that where the “eat with your hands” ethos was born?
A. Yes, it’s certainly from that. I have some Asian friends who were very opposed to eating with any sort of instrument unless you’re eating noodles. But it’s also sort of a metaphor for how I got over there in the first place and how I’ve lived my life, which is to dig in, to immerse yourself. If you have the inclination, if you have the passion, go for it, don’t dance around it. Dig in.
Q. But your recipes are not straight Malaysian dishes. There’s a lot of tinkering.
A. What’s interesting about the book is it’s not focused solely on Asian or Malaysian flavors. It does cover other dishes and food that I’ve cooked and other inspirations. I spent a lot of time living in Italy and I grew up with a real Italian diet and I trained under French chefs, so there are smatterings of European or Western influences in the book as well as Asian influences, which to me makes it all the more interesting.
Q. You’re a huge proponent of buying local. Can that be difficult when searching for very foreign flavors?
A. What we do [at the restaurants] is we’ll buy fish sauce and shrimp paste and these types of things, but we’ll cook local vegetables and we’ll get local bok choy and local pork and chickens, so it’s a balance between what obviously we cannot get. But [in the book] these recipes aren’t dogmatic. If you can’t find some of these ingredients, find something else that’s fresh but approximate to the flavor we’re discussing. And push it a little, push the limits of flavor. Don’t pussyfoot around, try to work with some more assertive flavors and see what comes out of it.
Q. How do you think this book will change the way people think about flavor combinations?
A. There’s a balance that is at the core of the southeast Asian food philosophy, playing sweet off of spicy. And working in these flavors, bitter off of funky, using fermented products, playing with the depths of flavors and learning how to balance what are individually very intense flavors such as fermented shrimp. Alone, it’s a very pungent and intense flavor, but used in a brine or mixed with a little bit of lime juice and garlic and chili oil, all of a sudden it turns into something very sublime, simple, and easy to appreciate.
Q. During barbecue season, you must be the king among your friends. What recipe from the book would you recommend for grilling?
A. Certainly the ribs. And a buddy of mine just called me up and said he cooked the brisket recipe and it came out beautifully. He’s a Texan and he said it’s the best brisket he ever had, which was flattering because Texans are pretty proprietary about their brisket. There’s this roasted chicken with a turmeric rub that’s great on the grill and a steamed fish that in the summer I cook on the grill with the same sauces. There’s a ton of things from the book that I modify to cook on the grill in the summertime. I encourage anyone to take the recipes I have in the book and apply them to the grill or the smoker.