Ben Puchowitz hadn’t always planned on becoming a chef, but now he’s one of the hottest in town. While going to school at Temple, Puchowitz started working at his family’s restaurant, the upscale Matyson. When his cousin, the restaurant’s co-founder, left for the West Coast, Puchowitz took the reins to the kitchen. Earlier this year, he and his buddy Shawn Darragh got experimental and opened Cheu Noodle Bar.
How are things going at Cheu?
Cheu’s going great. We’re really busy and everything feels more organized. In the beginning it was real tough. I never opened a restaurant before — it was chaos. It took a while but we figured it out.
How do you split up your time between Cheu and Matyson?
I do six days at Cheu and one at Matyson.
Yikes. What do you do when you get a day off? Laundry?
I’m going to New York, and I’m going to eat at Ivan Ramen. Other than that I like to chill out, play guitar, listen to music and eat noodles. One of my cooks gave me a day off the other week. Yeah, I did laundry, hung around, read some books.
You read cookbooks pretty regularly, right?
Yeah, I read a lot of cookbooks. It’s really important for me to know what’s going on in food outside of Philly. I got into the business in a way that wasn’t traditional. I went from cook to head chef. I wish I kind of did it differently. If I went to school I would have learned a lot more – everything would’ve been easier. Or learning under a bunch of chefs and seeing what they do. I only had one mentor and that was my cousin Matt. But the whole time I was working for him I wasn’t planning on becoming a chef.
Do you have a favorite ingredient?
It changes a lot. I would say right now I like white soy. It’s a more pungent soy sauce. And I like fermented things and the sourness you get from that. All the dishes at Cheu have something fermented in them.
Cheu just won the So Hot Right Now award from Eater Philly. How important is that for Cheu?
It’s kind of important. I had big dreams for this place when we opened. I see all these places doing the style that we’re doing and opening up in New York and L.A. They’ve opened to huge praise. I was hoping to get the same response. I try really hard with everything I do. I think it’s what you need to do, as a chef or not.