5 Courses with Patricia Yeo of Moksa
by Louisa Kasdon
| January 30, 2012
It was in fall 2009 when Patricia Yeo, a New York-based chef
with a storied career and secure national rep, joined our culinary scene. First
we found her at the South End's bygone Ginger Park; then she entered the
kitchen at OM in Harvard Square. Now comes her latest venture, Moksa
(450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617.661.4900). Slated to open in
mid-February, it promises to be a hopping Central Square spot boasting
high-flavor street food, a big bar and good-weather patio, and a large club
space in the back. Best of all, Moksa will be one of very few spots to serve
real food till 2 a.m. Can you tell she spent a lot of time in New York?
Has Boston become home? I don't actually love Boston
- but I do love Cambridge. When I first came, I was literally living out of two
suitcases. I was living in the South End, and I thought the area was sleepy and
too residential. I left work at Ginger Park at 9:30 p.m., and the streets in
the South End would be deserted. I had the feeling that in Boston, there were
only pockets of life. Then this summer, I moved to Cambridge! So much happier!
Harvard Square is always teeming with people. Looking out the window at OM, I
see a carnival going by. Cambridge is smaller, wonderfully transient with new
students coming every four years, and very international. And I love Central
Square! It has a sort of charge - like 14th Street - scruffy and wonderful.
Cambridge feels right to me. I've just sublet my apartment in New York for the
next two years. For me, that's a huge commitment - about as much as I am able
Has Boston had an impact on your cooking? Yes, I've
been a little more conservative so far. So was my staff. They used to be a
meat-and-potatoes kind of crowd that didn't want to taste spicy, ambitious
food. When I came back from Vegas, one of them came rushing over to me saying,
"I had chicken hearts, and I love them!" At Moksa, I will blow the lid off
again. I'll be using stronger flavors and more esoteric ingredients, like
crispy duck and brandade. We can serve more "interesting" food since the price
point at Moksa is low ($2-$15), the dishes are small, and it isn't a big
investment for the guest. We'll serve things like chicken hearts and beef
tendons. I predict chicken hearts and beef tendons will be the pork belly of
Yum! What else is on the menu? The best of street
food from Asia and Southeast Asia - the food from Ginger Park on steroids.
Street food is literally food that you eat on the street: a little roti or a
small bowl of noodles. In Malaysia, where I grew up until I was seven or eight,
street food is very organized. There are small areas, translated as "glutton
squares," full of little specialized vendors who bring their one dish to your
table. Fun and very noisy!
Why do you love street food so much? It's so much
more interesting. Your palate gets bored, jaded, with a 12-ounce piece of steak
or fish. The same flavor in every bite! You don't even taste at the third bite.
Too often people eat out of habit. "It's noon and it's lunchtime, so I have to
eat." They have the same thing for lunch every day instead of being hedonistic
and self-indulgent, which is what I think food should be.
There's buzz that you might be the next Boston chef to be on Top
Chef Masters. Can you comment? No comment.
We all just have to wait until July.