5 Courses with Patricia Yeo of Moksa

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 to make.

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 2012.  

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.