Pat Patz from Mexico serves the flavors of a Middle Eastern diaspora
It all started with a man’s singular obsession with a plate of chicken.
“I moved to Astoria, Queens, and right outside the subway station on 31st Avenue was this food cart. As soon as you got off the train you could smell it, the chicken, and I was crazy about it. I probably ate there three times a week during the 10 years I lived in New York, ”says Mijael Seidel, owner and chef of Pat Patz restaurant in the Roma neighborhood.
The cart was the Palestinian king of Falafel and Shawarma. Promising that he would return to Mexico and not be a competitor, Seidel offered to pay the owner, a man named Freddy, for this chicken recipe.
“He came back and said, ‘I can sell you the chicken recipe – for $ 7,000.’ Seidel’s infectious laughter takes over the both of us. “And I only had 1,000 saved, so …”
His personal quest, as he landed in his native Mexico, was to uncover the secret of this chicken.
He watched interviews with Freddy, who rose to fame in 2010 after winning the Vendy Street Vendor Award in New York City. He added and subtracted spices. He searched cookbooks and found a lot of guinea pigs.
“My mom had this rule: if you’re inviting friends, don’t cook anything you’ve never cooked before… and I just did the opposite every week.
It all happened in the town of Colima, where Seidel founded a graphic design company with his then wife. They lived in his hometown to be closer to the beach and nature, but instead Seidel ended up behind his computer. His mind returned to the foods he loved in New York City as he reworked the recipes in his head.
“[I needed] to check that what I was doing made sense in any way, ”he says. “Is it close to the original?” Is it far from the original? Because I knew my flavor was from New York, and New York is already an adaptation. I remember when I was living in New York and trying to find Mexican food, how nothing, even if it was cooked by Mexicans, tasted like it was meant to be. Sometimes the products don’t have the same punch. You had to add elements to complete the flavor profile that the ingredients should have, but you don’t.
He cooked weekly meals at a friend’s kung fu dojo, sold falafels in an old hot dog cart, made ghormeh sabzi (Iranian stew) and shawarma at a local brewery, all while researching the flavors of his memories.
“When I was eight years old, this Israeli woman who lived in Colima did [hummus] and I brought it home, and I was like, ‘This is great. They’re chickpeas, but they’re lemony, salty, and tangy. This is actually the hummus I’m trying to breed now.
The obsession had gone far beyond chicken by this point. For a decade, Seidel dissected falafel and experimented with the perfect harissa. He discovered sumac and measured and remeasured the right proportions for skewers of lamb and beef.
Meanwhile, all of his money was stolen from a catering event. He tore a muscle in his shoulder so much he couldn’t cook, fought and broke up with his wife, fought and broke up with his business partner, lost the hot cart dog and his equipment, walked away from a takeout store and eventually knocked outside on his own.
Now Seidel is seated under Pat Patz’s terrace, which was crowded this Sunday afternoon with diners. His smile is that of an exhausted but happy man – perhaps not surprisingly: it opened in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the year also earned him a price of Food and wine fr Spanish, when in October they named him one of the best new chefs of the year.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said, immediately embarking on his plans for chickpea shakes and Persian rice plates, as well as his dreams of an open grill and making kebabs from all over the Middle. -East.
Lately, he accepts the nuances that make his food unique. A few years after starting his project, Seidel traveled to Turkey and Greece to find the more traditional versions of his dishes.
“I kept thinking: mine is an adaptation. How does it taste in its original form? So I was like, where are the hottest, trendiest kebabs making in Turkey right now? And I found places that I liked – and I tasted the food, and it tasted like Pat Patz because the people behind the counter were North Africans living in Istanbul, sharing with the Turks and combining ideas. And people loved him and stood in line.
“And sure enough, I tasted the more traditional stuff, and I was like, ‘It’s good, but lacks the punch I’m used to. “The same in Greece: [I found] a place that was a mix. It was run by Israelis, Palestinians and Greeks, and it was a different variation but the same flavor highlights.
The food at these places was good because it was an adaptation of an adaptation. So Seidel went with his gut, literally. Pat Patz today combines the flavors of Middle Eastern immigrants spanning the globe with the pizzazz and punch he loves in Mexican cuisine.
“No one can come to my restaurant and say my kebab is too hot or why it has chili peppers because I’ve found that… they can have anything I put in it,” he says.
“It’s just like we used to do at home,” a friend says of Pat Patz’s Israeli salad – a burst of tomato, cucumber, sumac vinaigrette and parsley. An Armenian who grew up in Boston fed by her Russian Jewish grandmother, she knows a lot about adaptations.
“This Moroccan girl once told me that she could finally move to Mexico because she found something that reminded her of home,” says Seidel. “That sort of thing confirmed to me that I wasn’t so lost in what I was up to.”
Lydia Carey regularly contributes to Mexico Daily News.