While most chefs grew up around food, Corwin Kave has a unique culinary heritage. The chef de cuisine at both Fatty Crab locations, Corwin fell in love with the tongue-scalding dishes of Asia while working as a contract model in Singapore and Hong Kong. Certainly not the Batalian career trajectory. His mom, Rhonda (Roni-Sue), also came to professional cooking in a unique way—she turned a lifelong passion for chocolate making into a full-time career when she opened Roni-Sue's Chocolates at the Essex Street Market. The year-and-a-half-old shop is famous for unorthodox creations, like bacon buttercrunch and chocolate-covered "pig candy," which have been major hits at the annual Chocolate Show.
We sat down with this intriguing mother/son duo and retraced their culinary careers, from Julia Child VHS tapes to absinthe truffles to, hopefully soon, a collaboration at the upcoming Fatty 'Cue.
Corwin, did your mom's interest in food inspire you to pursue a culinary career?
Corwin: We made chocolate together for a long time [at Christmas].
Roni-Sue: For like 20 years. When we first started it was just for family and friends. By the end we were making 400 pounds at a crack.
CK: Getting into the culinary world kind of just happened. I was in high school and took photography and sculpture and all of it was fun, but none of it was what I felt like I wanted to be doing with my time. So I took Home Ec. It was all women and we were just baking cookies all day and I was like, This is the greatest class!
Roni, did you know your son would become a professional chef?
RK: I remember the summer that you didn't want to go to camp anymore...
CK: Yeah, it was horrible.
RK: So Corwin and his friend Rob said, "Let's do some cooking." I went to the library and got some Julia Child videotapes. I remember going out that afternoon and I came back and there was a lovely frittata in the oven.
Not to put you on the spot, Corwin, but what are you going to do for your mom this Mother's Day?
CK: [Laughing]: We haven't talked about it. Normally it's a brunch thing. Sometimes we do something in Brooklyn. My sister and I both live in Park Slope, next door to each other.
Would you ever dare to buy your mom someone else's chocolates for a gift?
CK: You know, chocolates just wouldn't come to mind. It would be like, you know...
Buying you sriracha?
CK: Yeah, or fish sauce or something.
Have you guys ever collaborated on a product?
RK: Right after I opened. I wanted to do a cocktail collection. I was struggling with one of the last [recipes], and Corwin showed up on Christmas Eve and he brought out this little bottle of home-brewed absinthe, and the absinthe truffle was born.
Is there a food that one of you loves and the other one hates?
CK: Yes. [Glances at his mom, who's cracking up] It's soup. It's an obvious one—my mother doesn't eat soup at all.
RK: As a category.
CK: Nobody understands it. She'll eat chili. She lived in New Mexico for a time, and green Hatch chile is her passion [Editor's note: Roni-Sue recently started selling her "Down the Hatch" green Hatch chile truffle, based on a suggestion by her friend and fellow Essex Market tenant, Kenny Shopsin.]
Do you have any favorite Mother's Day memories from when Corwin was growing up?
RK: Actually, they used to do breakfast in bed.
CK: I made pancakes. I was really good at making pancakes.
RK: I used to like making pancakes, and then they got into it too, with designs. We used to make "pansnakes"—with the tongue and everything.
What's your favorite dish at Fatty Crab, Roni-Sue?
RK: The Hainanese chicken.
And your favorite chocolate that your mom does?
CK: The fig, hands down. It has the fig vinegar in it. It's the vinegar and fruit thing that really gets me.
What's up with the forthcoming Brooklyn smoked-meat temple Fatty 'Cue?
CK: That's always the last question! It's very much almost there. I know they'd like to open up during the summer, since there's mostly outdoor seating there. The funny thing is, we all just really want it to be open so we can start eating. We all just want to eat there. Next door to Fatty Cue is a vegan commissary, which I think is great. And the best part is, they love our presence there, and they even rented some of their space to us for an outdoor walk-in. I just think that's so cool.
Photo by Sam Horine