When Eric Silverstein, the brains behind The Peached Tortilla and its ever-growing brand, sat down to write his new cookbook, it was important to him to tell the story of the many influences behind his food.
“Because on the face of it, someone who doesn’t know me, you might be like this guy has a Jewish name, he looks like he might be Asian maybe, and he’s cooking all this wack, weird stuff — why? If I don’t tell you the why, I don’t think it makes sense,” Silverstein says.
Silverstein's unique upbringing forms the core of his first cookbook, The Peached Tortilla: Modern Asian Comfort Food From Tokyo to Texas, debuting May 7. The pages (and a coinciding prix fixe menu, available at the restaurant May 7-12) trace his upbringing as an American kid growing up in Japan with a Jewish father and a Chinese mother, to his travels to Singapore and other Asian countries, to his time in Austin marrying all those flavors as a restaurateur.
Silverstein, who left the legal profession to open the food truck version of Peached, originally aimed to write a straight memoir. But after that didn't get picked up, he went back to the cutting board in 2015 with an idea for a cookbook that is part travelogue, part autobiography, and part culinary guide.
“The ebb and flow of the book was let’s talk about the food that I grew up eating at home, those recipes,” he said. “Some of them are more on the traditional end; some of them I’ve changed a little bit and modernized a little bit.”
While living in Japan, Silverstein’s father worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Japanese fast food, whether it was KFC or a McDonald’s teriyaki burger, heavily influences Silverstein’s cuisine. The Yume Dog, a Hebrew National frank topped with tempura onion strings, wasabi mayo, and tonkatsu sauce, isn't necessarily a recipe you'd find Japan, but is still influenced by the country.
“I just love the Japanese take on American fast food,” he said. “I know that sounds crazy, and a lot of people aren’t going to understand that, but if I lived in Japan I would probably eat at [popular chain] Mos Burger three times a week. I guess I don’t want to be ashamed to say that, you know?”
There’s also new takes on traditional dishes. Silverstein’s favorite recipe in the book is Southern Fun Noodles, a brisket-y take on the classic Cantonese noodle dish chow fun. “I’ve always loved noodles — anyone who knows me knows that,” Silverstein said. “For me this dish is the ultimate comfort food, because it has meaning to me. It’s a dish my mom knew was my favorite dish.”
Silverstein also thought about his adopted family — the food truck operators he still feels a kinship with — while writing the book. “It was important for me to relay that it wasn’t easy,” Silverstein said. “It’s not an easy business. It’s still not easy,” he said.
“There was a very significant point in my life where I didn’t want to do this anymore, because I was gassed out and tired,” he continued. “I just wasn’t in the right mental state — borderline depressed at the fact that I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to see this thing through. If some people can lean on that, and it gives them extra motivation, then I’m all for that.”
The book, at its core, is meant to inspire. “That’s why I tell my story,” he said. “If you don’t like what you’re doing in life, you have the power to change that. And it’s scary, and you’re going to feel alone, but people do it. And they come out on the other side alive, and sometimes better for it.”