Lee Anne Wong of Sweetcatch Poke brings a taste of Aloha to the city
What is the story behind Sweetcatch?
Bobby wanted to open a poke shop. We’ve known each other for years. The goal was to bring something authentic and better to what the mainland had been introduced to as “poke,” which are more build your own sushi bowls than anything. I think my motivation was to create the real deal and use a higher quality fish than what is currently being served at other poke shops. There has been a lot of controversy here in Hawaii regarding how Hawaiian chefs feel about the new poke trend on mainland which for the most part is a far cry from the quality and traditional styles that we see here. I felt this was a great opportunity to introduce true Hawaiian style poke to my old hometown of NYC.
How did you get into the culinary world?
I didn’t begin cooking for myself until I was in college. I had worked in restaurants since I was a teenager so food service was part of my life already but I went to college for fashion design and eventually ended up going to culinary school when I turned 21. My friends were actually the ones who told me to go to culinary school. I had been living in a 200-square-foot apartment in Times Square with a futon mattress on the floor and a 13” box TV on the floor. I got channels 2 through 13 and by some miracle, I got channel 50 which was the Food Network. I began obsessively watching and the cooking for my friends. To this day I believe they told me to go to school to improve the quality of what I was cooking for them!
What is your favorite thing to cook at home?
I like long cooking stews and braises like chicken and dumplings or short ribs. It’s hard to enjoy as much now that I’m in Hawaii and it’s constantly 70-plus degrees out year round, but I love things that take time to cook. The end result is so satisfying when you get it right.
Does your background in fashion influence your culinary career at all?
I think my background in art has helped me in developing my plating style. Obviously both involve working with your hands, but cooking is so much more tangible and immediate than fashion design: I view my plate as the canvas and how I decide to plate as my expression. I think about color, texture, height, architecture, contrast, positive and negative space on the plate. Different looks for a dish will illicit different reactions so we are always thinking about how to make it taste great first and how to make it irresistible to the eyes secondly.
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