On the back of his new cookbook, “Eat With Your Hands” ($40, Harper Collins), chef Zakary Pelaccio describes his cooking as “Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine with French and Italian inflections.” As you can imagine, the gastro-genius behind Fatty Crab and Fatty ’Cue restaurants in New York City finds culinary inspiration everywhere, from travels through Malaysia to Herbie Mann’s cheesy grooves from the 1970s.
The first recipe is for frog legs, and in the noodles chapter you have a recipe for sea urchin gonads. Who is this book for?
It reflects things I’ve cooked during my career. My wife and I cherry-picked meals we enjoyed based on nostalgia. Some of the ingredients like green garlic sound esoteric for a meal at home, but it’s actually pretty common for us. And technically the gonads are called uni. I was just trying to be anatomically correct, unlike a Barbie doll.
I’d be hard-pressed to find uni in my grocery store. How do you feel about substitutions?
These are just guidelines. Certainly I’m going to have an opinion about things I’ve encountered and what I’ve used, but that doesn’t mean what’s good for me is what’s good for you. And it also doesn’t mean I’ve perfected it. Somebody else may be able to make it better and take an idea and expand on it.
Can you explain your “eat with your hands” philosophy?
It’s a metaphor. The people who take it literally make me laugh. “Is this a book about finger foods?” That’s right. That’s what I wrote: A book consisting entirely of tea sandwiches. [Laughs] It’s the idea of immersing yourself in whatever you’re doing and having fun.
This was your first cookbook. What was the process like?
Challenging. Typically I scribble down some notes and describe to my cook how something should be prepared. But with the book, I had to ask things like, “When I say add salt to taste, how much salt is that? How long do you leave something on the stove?” Recipes are the easiest framework to communicate food to one another.
You share an anecdote with every recipe. Any other ways you’ve made these recipes more than just words on a page?
I suggest songs to listen to while cooking every recipe. Also, the pictures are a bit out of focus and the paper is coarse. It’s meant to get thrown around and stained.
In the introduction to your cookbook, you thank people for their good advice. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
The best advice I never listened to was from my father when I graduated college. He said, “You can do whatever you want with your life. My only advice is to take a job where you can sit down.” I didn’t take it and right now my back is sore, and my right knee is bothering me.