In the time of COVID, one man’s empty dining room is another’s hoshigaki parlor. At least that’s what visitors to the West Village tearoom Té Company might have surmised when they stopped in for a takeout order in December only to look up and see the ceiling hung with neat rows of slowly drying hachiya persimmons, each acorn-shaped fruit attached to a beam with a length of red-and-white butcher twine knotted around a screw embedded in its top.
Frederico Ribeiro, the chef who owns Té with his wife, the Taiwanese-tea maven Elena Liao, first encountered the traditional preservation technique as a sous-chef at Per Se, where the seasonal fruit was aged in dry storage and sometimes served on the cheese plate, and he began experimenting with it himself at Té. But it wasn’t until the pandemic caused the snug shop to suspend table service that Ribeiro ramped up production from what had started out as a few recreational hachiyas behind the counter to this year’s room-dwarfing crop of 200.
Hoshigaki (“dried persimmon” in Japanese) has become more popular Stateside in recent years among chefs and home DIY-ers, especially in California, where the fruit is ubiquitous and the climate favorable. Like maintaining a sourdough starter or fermenting cabbage, it is a project: Unripe persimmons must be peeled, hung, and massaged periodically (hands washed with unscented soap, Ribeiro cautions) to break down the fibers. By the time a sugar bloom coats the surface, the darkened, shriveled flesh should have achieved what the chef calls a “gummy bear” texture — chewy and succulent, dense but not dry. The transformation from hard and glossy to wizened and sweet requires air, light, and time, afforded, in Té Company’s case, by a cracked window, a small fan, and the temporary absence of lingering customers.
Considered an auspicious food in many Asian countries, including China, where the fruit originated, persimmons are often present at Lunar New Year celebrations, and Ribeiro will mark the holiday by selling his both at the shop and online ($25 for a box of five). For him, hoshigaki is less a pandemic pivot than a deep-seated culinary pursuit. “I love to make them,” he says. “The old way of preserving ingredients, the concept of drying to preserve — for me, it’s fascinating.”
163 W. 10th St., nr. Seventh Ave. S.; tecompanytea.com