Zakary Pelaccio’s Eat with Your Hands is cheeky in the Rabelaisian sense. It also contains at least four recipes for pig jowls: with champagne grapes, with rice pot kimchi, with strawberry salad or brined and braised. The entire dessert chapter is a magenta two-page spread featuring a rainbow and hybridized animal icon that commands, “EAT FRESH FRUIT!” The recipes are arranged by protein, as orderly as rib bones; meaty creative writing is the connective tissue, rendered with some of the most delectable vocabulary ever to grace a cookbook.
But Eat with Your Hands isn’t just a cookbook, just as Pelaccio’s cuisine – as made famous by Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cut, the New York City restaurants that he owns and founded – isn’t just Malaysian (he lived and worked there) or Italian (he’s 30 percent) or American (-born) or meticulously balanced (he trained at the French Laundry). The book exists at the intersection of memoir and manual; the food reflects a confluence of influences from Penang to Palermo. It’s fresh, it’s new, it’s “the very essence of nowness,” quoth The New York Times.
Get a glimpse into the wide, wonderful world of Zakary Pelaccio on Saturday, August 4 at bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck. From 2 to 5 p.m., the award-winning chef and author will offer conversation, victuals and rock ‘n’ roll at a free tasting and book-signing. It’s a great opportunity to say hi to your famous neighbor: Pelaccio and his wife, Jori Jayne Emde, are part-time residents of Old Chatham.
They will open a restaurant at 13 Third Street in Hudson this fall. “I wanted to do it in a place that I love and a place that is beautiful, and Hudson – and the Hudson Valley – to me, is that place,” said Pelaccio. “It’s close enough to New York and my son that I can still lead the family life that I need to live, as well as indulge in the creativity of this new space.”
The new restaurant won’t be Fatty. It will serve ever-evolving regional Northeast cuisine made with top-shelf Hudson Valley products, and reflect the dual vision of Pelaccio and Emde, who’s also an accomplished cook.
Pelaccio plans to continue his association with the Fatty Crew downstate; and Eat with Your Hands, written with J. J. Goode, owes a great debt to the Southeast Asian-inspired cooking that made Pelaccio a star. “I’ve had sort of this varied experience and cooked a few things and lived a rich culinary life really early on, and it just made sense to me to sum up where I’ve gotten to so far. It definitely felt like writing a memoir,” said Pelaccio. “I cherry-picked things that I really loved, that I’ve cooked over the years, whether at home or at the Fatty restaurants. It’s all in there.”
These recipes are written for accessibility, so the home cook need not be daunted as long as there’s a good Asian market nearby. Pelaccio recommends Assam Laksa, a sour noodle soup so mind-blowingly delicious that it’s known as “Awesome Laksa,” and Pasta con Sarde, a straightforward celebration of Pelaccio’s favorite fish, the sardine. Other mouthwaterers include Bacon and Beets, Chicken and Lardo and Crispy Pork and Watermelon Salad. Each dish comes with drink and music suggestions: from Tobacco, warped hip-hop electronica and Gastion Chicquet to Roy Ayers and “the Champagne of Beers.”
Music is a big part of style, and an important part of dining, to Pelaccio. “Music is, to me, part of the conviviality of sharing a meal with somebody,” he said. “You go out to dinner to be transported, not eat in your home, be somewhere different, to be prepared something other than what you do for yourself. Really, I think in the most successful restaurants, the person who owns it is fully invested in creating the style and maintaining the style.”
His style is energetic, inquisitive and ballsy. The peripatetic Pelaccio is a student of the world – of literature and philosophy (BA, University of Vermont), world cultures and culinary techniques. He sums up this modus operandi with a moving mondegreen: “I eat with my hands today, and not just because it would be a serious shame to let utensils slow me down,” Pelaccio writes in Eat with Your Hands. “It has become a sort of philosophy of mine – a metaphor for life. When discussing life and its struggles, my father always told me to ‘Just dig it,’ and I think I initially misheard his wise words as ‘Just dig in,’” he writes. We dig.
A book-signing and tasting with Zakary Pelaccio, author of Eat with Your Hands (Ecco, 2012) will be held on Saturday, August 4 from 2 to 5 p.m. at bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy, located at 6423 Montgomery Street, Suite 3 in Rhinebeck. Admission is free. For information call (845) 876-1117 or visit www.bluecashewkitchen.com.