“Although you can get diverse food in New York, the different cuisines are never really mixed together to make a new dish.” Chung Chow – chef/owner at Noreetuh, in the East Village – highlights a lack of cross-pollination that sounds somehow paradoxical in the so-called “World’s melting pot”.
“For example, you don't see Mexican mixed with Greek food, nor Columbian mixed with Japanese food....” And then: “On the contrary, Hawaiian cuisine is inherently fusionist, the food there represents the culinary cultures from which it came.”
Blending different styles, in any art form, is a difficult task. It relies on technique and intimate knowledge of the subject. Chow has fifteen years’ experience to draw on, having worked under the master of French cuisine in America, Thomas Keller, and having opened Jonathan Benno’s restaurant, Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center.
With this in mind chef Chow - born in Hong Kong and raised on Oahu in Hawaii – opened in March 2019 his eclectic restaurant together with other two Per Se veterans, Managing Partner Jin Ahn (responsible for the wine list) and Gerald San Jose. They serve Hawaiian cuisine with Japanese and Korean influences.
“I think having a classically trained background in cooking is vital to any cuisine”, he says. “We emulsify sauces, braise meats, blanch vegetables, finish dishes with butter and acid, and many other things. After having been in restaurants that use French techniques for so many years, it has become a part of who I am, and how I do things. In the end, French technique or not, it's ultimately just good technique.”
The menu features a variety of Hawaiian fusion dishes and the unexpected is the norm – Beef tongue with cilantro and peanuts, Pork jowl with scallion and ginger; Bone marrow bread pudding with Hokkaido uni and topped with truffles, Mentaiko spaghetti with smoked cod and of course the Hawaiian staple of spicy spam, is treated reverently and served with soy mayo and jalapeno.
Fine Dining Lovers caught up with chef Chow to learn about his inspiration for a food that is eclectic as it is playful.
Pineapple Braised Pork Belly
Can you tell us about the intersection among these cultures and how it’s captured in your food?
During the plantation era in Hawaii, workers were needed to tend the pineapple and sugarcane fields. So, a large part of that labour came from Asia, including Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. While working in the fields, they started sharing their meals, and this ultimately ended up being the core of what Hawaiian food is now.
Not only are these flavours exciting on their own, but when you mix them, you can come up with some really interesting ideas and combinations. For example, you can see galbi, fried rice, kimchee and kalua pig all on one plate.
And how you integrate this into your cuisine at Noreetuh?
I take all those flavours I grew up with - my parents owned a noodle manufacturing business in Chinatown, I saw the diverse people and smelled all the different foods that made the area so unique - and interpret them into something more accessible and modern. A current dish we have on the menu, for example, is the Monkfish liver with passion fruit gelée. The monk liver is like the ankimo you see at Japanese restaurants, but we cooked ours at a lower temperature so that it's silkier and more tender. We serve it with passion fruit gelée, which we call lilikoi in Hawaii, and some toasted King's Hawaiian sweet bread. We treat this dish a little like duck foie gras, where you'd serve the liver with brioche instead.
What does it mean Noreetuh?
It means ‘playground’ in Korean. At Noreetuh, we're serious about putting out quality food, but we try to be inventive and playful in the dishes. This playfulness allows us to think outside the box and use ideas that can tie into this restaurant, and the flavour profile we're looking to achieve. This doesn't mean we always come up with good dishes, but it keeps the ball rolling and sometimes, we get lucky and come up with something great.I want my guests to come to Noreetuh and leave with an experience that they can remember and talk about. I want people to go home and talk about what they ate, and tell their friends about what new flavours they'd discovered and enjoyed, in ways they've never had elsewhere.