Peter Som Wants His Designs (and Food) to Transport You
The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. In collaboration with Domino magazine, we’re focusing on the intersection of design and home cooking, and speaking to leaders who inspire us. Peter Som is a fashion designer best known as the founder of his eponymous clothing line. In the Sag Harbor home he shares with his boyfriend, interior designer Timothy Brown, Peter made braised short ribs and discussed how he finds escapism in his designs.
Even in fifth grade, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I was singularly focused. I started my line back in 2000. I had worked at a few companies before that, gone to Parsons School of Design, and I always wanted to start my own clothing line. At the same time, I was consulting for other companies; I was a creative director at Bill Blass, and I consulted with Tommy Hilfiger. I always strove to design clothes that were beautiful, feminine, and wearable, with a sense of ease to them.
I think I'm kind of an escapist at heart.
I've always loved old movies — and film, in general. I think I'm kind of an escapist at heart. Even as a kid, old movies were a way for me to escape into this world of beauty where I could just forget about all of my troubles or whatever was going on at school. I think that kind of idea carried into my approach to fashion. When I’m designing, I always ask myself, What makes clothes fashion? Or, What makes food a cuisine or a meal? And for me it is giving a dream, giving a bit of escapism to the wearer. Whether it’s wearing my clothes or eating something I’ve cooked, I want you to be transported.Timothy, my boyfriend, is an interior designer, so he spearheaded the design of our home. The house has great mid-century proportions and a killer view looking out over Noyack Bay, but it definitely needed some TLC. This is truly a beach house, so renovations were kept to a minimum — it was all about getting creative. There’s nothing a good coat of paint can’t fix! It was all about an effortless mix of high-low — Scarpa, Bertoia, and Perriand furniture pieces with CB2 and cool found objects. Being a weekend getaway, an easy, relaxed feel was key.
Cooking was always a central part of my childhood and my upbringing. Our family had a joke that we started planning the next meal as soon as we were sitting down for our current meal. We ate a mix of Chinese food, which is my background; American food; and then my mom had a love of French food.
My grandmother made mostly Chinese food. One of my earliest memories — and I think a lot of Asian kids will echo this — is my sister and I sitting at my grandmother's large dining table and making wontons. It was an all-day affair, and by the end of the afternoon the entire dining table would be filled. My grandmother was very central in terms of my love of Chinese food.
I didn't really start cooking in earnest until I started my company. For me, cooking was the balance to the stress of running a small business and starting my line. I always gravitate back to the kitchen at the end of the day to keep my feet on the ground and recenter myself. I think there was a parallel path for cooking and fashion.
For me, cooking was the balance to the stress of running a small business and starting my line.
I made citrus-braised short ribs in my Dutchess. It's a riff on all of those low-and-slow clay-pot braises my grandma made when I was a kid. I love that sweet-and-sour, sticky-and-citrusy kick that a lot of Chinese food offers. Growing up, and even now, my favorite dish was sweet-and-sour pork.
I wanted to take the idea of braised short ribs and add a highbrow touch to it. It's not strictly Chinese. I mean, I used gochujang, some fish sauces, and other non-specifically Chinese elements, but the end result is very true to a lot of the Chinese food I grew up with. I put in large slices of orange and lemon peel, chunks of ginger, soy, and hoisin. And I think it turned out pretty good, so I think it may be a repeat.
Pretty much with any braise, I start by browning the meat in The Dutchess, and, after that, I take it out and put in aromatics. This dish is really more onion-based — not a lot of carrot or celery. Then I just mix in everything else, put in the hoisin and gochujang, and add some brown sugar. Once that’s done, I put the meat back in The Dutchess and add some water to go low and slow. And then you're done. I garnished with some scallions and fresh herbs. It's really easy, and there's a big payoff. Like any braise, it's even better the next day.
Cooking is like that end-of-the-day therapy for me. Most often, I love being in the kitchen just solo, doing my thing. I'm in my zone. It's also an act of bringing people together, which I think we all miss these days. At that point, food becomes more of a vehicle and part of a greater whole for conversation, for friendship, for companionship, for being with people.