This week I pose Seven Questions to Will Horowitz, the chef-owner of Ducks Eatery in Manhattan’s East Village. Ducks is the kind of place where trail mix, crispy pig’s ears, and yakamein with barbecued brisket and clams all appear on the same menu. Strange, beautiful and delicious.
How would you characterize the food at Ducks?
We like to tell people that it’s “Vietnamese Cajun food, strongly influenced by local terroir” so people have some sense of category, maybe next week we’ll just start calling it “New Orleans 2047.” Really though, I have no fucking idea. I’m building recipes like stories, my inspiration is found in old trade routes, travels, nature, wars, traditions and heritage techniques. With that being said, there’s also a very “stream of consciousness” style undertone to our creativity, which we tend to paint on what’s often a very comedic canvas.
Do most customers get it?
A lot of people get it, a lot of people don’t. Not that I expect everyone too, that wasn’t the goal. Religion gives faith to the uncertainty of the universe’s question marks… we are a question mark with no religion. We’re utilizing a mentality driving some of the world’s most exciting restaurants in the form of corn dogs & moonshine. With that being said we have a huge following from the neighborhood, food writers and most of all industry folk. We’ve become sort of a cult hangout for a lot of really cool chefs, which makes me happy. I love cooking for other cooks.
What’s up with the name? Why not Horowitz’s?
My great grandfather’s old Harlem Delicatessen was called Zinn’s Delicatessen. That was heavily considered. “Horowitz’s” just wouldn’t be my style, I’ll leave that to Ronald McDonald & other greater men than myself. In a former rogue hippy ski bum life, I was living in the mountains in Colorado, with pipe dreams of opening mid-mountain grilled cheese and tomato soup stands called “Ducks” with a girl I had been engaged to at the time, I think we just really liked duck. The dream eluded me, like many and later on the girl passed away. It was very sad and it took me a lot of time too wrap my head around these experiences, eventually their lessons became the fuel to my motivation.
How did you get into barbecue?
Much of my college career in Boulder was focused on sustainability and Buddhism… Smoking. Curing. Drying. Pickling. Fermenting… these types of traditions go hand in hand with both.
What do you think about the status of barbecue in New York City?
It’s exciting, between Brisket Town, Fletcher’s, and Mighty Quinn’s there are so many great new places this year! I think eventually NYC can become a real BBQ town. Though, historically NYC is a very skinny city. Hopefully there’s enough foodies and fatties to keep it thriving!
Dee’s Nuts strikes me as a crazy Southeast Asian backpacker trail mix was that the inspiration?
Absolutely, I think we were also a little stoned at the time too. When I was staying in Kathmandu I used to always eat this Bhelpuri style street snack served in newspaper cones. I love the way puffed rice could almost aerate the density of it. Aeration in food can expose flavors the same way we like to decanter & swoosh wine. When we started to experiment with the idea, I couldn’t find the type of puffed rice I wanted and I was too lazy to head to Jackson Heights. As soon as we saw Cocoa Rice Crispies on the shelf it
clicked… Bacon, cherries, cashews, chilies & chocolate… Obvious move.
What’s your favorite way to eat bone marrow?
Fresh & raw from from tuna and swordfish… But, recently we’ve been serving roasted veal marrow as a special, split in half with cold smoked lobster tomalley, pickled oyster, preserved stone fruit and sage. I really like that too.