Spicing It Up
WHEN PATRICIA YEO DECIDES to throw a cookout, her guests know better than to expect a humdrum spread of burgers and crudités. The chef, who recently took over at Om in Harvard Square and is working on a forthcoming restaurant, Moksa, in Central Square, is known for her inventive preparations and affinity for assertive cuisines, especially Southeast Asian street food. Her dishes are far from timid, which makes sense given her culinary background: She cooked with Bobby Flay and opened AZ, Pazo, and Sapa restaurants in Manhattan before coming to Boston to head up the now-closed Ginger Park. So when she descends on a posh, modern deck on the edge of the Back Bay, the result is a funky-cool feast that puts most backyard barbecues to shame.
The location is a unit in the Bryant — a chic, recently constructed luxury development just steps from Copley Square — designed by friend Kristine Mullaney. On a deck overlooking the brownstones and brick sidewalks of the South End, Yeo keeps watch over the grill, checking every now and then to make sure her lamb tenderloin satay skewers aren’t getting overly charred. “I call these ‘Uyghur-style,’” she says, referring to both a cuisine and people who hail from corners of central China and Mongolia. The dry rub of toasted spices, garlic, and chilies that permeates the lamb gives off a heady, earthy aroma when it hits the heat, eliciting loud belly grumbles from the crowd she has assembled for the meal: Raj Rai, Steven Duarte, Silvie Forte, Gus Karageorge, Mark Raab, and Lisa Merrowitz.
The spread, laid out on a table dressed with tropical flowers and bowls of bright citrus fruit, is certainly impressive. But despite the raves from dinner guests, Yeo insists that the meal prep was an easy feat. The trick? Choosing the right recipes and knowing where to shop. “Even in Boston’s Chinatown, there aren’t a lot of places selling good ingredients,” she says, referring to Asian staples such as Vietnamese fish sauce and exotic fruits and herbs. “But for the most part, I can get what I need at Ming’s on Washington Street.” The rest, she says, comes from the regular grocery store, as well as Super 88 in the Boston area and H Mart in Burlington. By layering complex flavor elements such as pickled carrots, cilantro, and copious amounts of fresh citrus, other, more basic ingredients like cabbage, apple, and cucumber are made enticingly new.
“The great thing about a summer menu is that it can be incredibly simple,” says Yeo, who admits that as a restaurant chef, being able to throw a cookout for friends is a rare — and much-appreciated — respite from the late-night grind. And her casual menu for the day — the lamb skewers, the banh mi sandwiches, and the sweet popsicles to finish the meal — reflects her laid-back approach to warm-weather entertaining. “There’s no need to overcomplicate it. A grill and good ingredients are all you need.”