Anyone tracking the small chalkboard menu at Sticky Rice, the new Thai "comfort food" stand in Grand Central Market, might note the steadily increasing number of dishes from chef Johnny Lee. Lee's a San Gabriel Valley native who worked at Rivera and the Flying Pig Truck and now heads the kitchens at Spirit House in Alhambra and Sticky Rice downtown with partner David Tewasart (Soi 7). At Sticky Rice, Lee is focusing on regional Thai cooking made with seasonal, organic ingredients: khao mun gai, a Thai version of Hainan chicken rice; gai yang grilled chicken served with Thai barbecue sauce; five-spice pork belly stew; a roster of curries; and papaya salad made to order in a large pok pok mortar in the open kitchen. Northern Thai sausages recently were added to the menu and dessert of mango sticky rice, but expect more pork.
What's coming up next on your menu?
Pork satay and crispy pork belly.
Latest ingredient obsession?
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again?
Cook's Torta. You can't go wrong with the Mi Ranchito [grilled skirt steak, dry-aged chorizo, nopalitos salad, spicy serrano, guacamole and fresh cheese] and one of the daily changing aguas frescas.
The one piece of kitchen equipment you can't live without, other than your knives?
Thermapen. Although we try to learn to tell doneness by feeling, sometimes you need a precise and accurate temperature reading, and the Thermapen does it in 3 seconds or less.
What chef has most influenced you?
It would have to be chef John Sedlar of Rivera. The way he elevated food that he was passionate about opened my eyes to what I would like to do with the food I myself am passionate about. His food was as much about respecting the history and tradition of the dish as it was moving it forward.
Sticky Rice, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, No. C-4-5, Los Angeles.