Architect Peter McCarthy knew where he was headed from an early age. With a mother insistent about her dreams for her son and a hands-on father always tinkering away in his wood shop, it was clear design was in Peter’s future.
“My mother started telling me that she thought I was going be an architect somewhere around the age of eight. Things grew very quickly from there, in terms of being construction-minded, very hands-on,” says Peter. “When I was a kid, my tree fort in the backyard was published in the local newspaper. The history of architecture goes way back for me.”
In addition to designing buildings, Peter also builds with food, as an amateur chef. While abroad in Japan, a visit to the famed Tsukiji Market inspired him to consider the intersection of the culinary and construction worlds.
“To experience the market in action, you have to stay up all night, since it opens at around 2 a.m. After riding my bike halfway across the city, and killing time to stay awake, I spent the early morning hours witnessing one of the most amazing events on earth,” says Peter. “You’d see tanks of sea life that you would swear are from another planet, and in the next breath, watch whole tuna the size of refrigerators sliding across the floor between sellers and buyers in the auction. As a spectator, you are a part of the action, trying not to get run over by the miniature pickup-truck-sized vehicles zooming around the complex.”
Enjoying these new sights and smells, Peter settled in for the ultimate sensory experience: taste.
“The action slows down around the time the sun rises. I found a small four-seat shop at the edge of the market. The owner buys his stock for the day right there at the market and he prepares whatever makes sense,” Peter recalled. “He spoke just enough English that I could order, but not enough that we could converse. So I sat there exhausted, but energized, and ate a modest bowl of rice, seaweed, and raw tuna in relative silence.”
Peter’s visit was a turning point – not just for his culinary taste, but in his professional work.
The six months I spent in Japan were where I really started to connect food and design in more literal ways.
His exploration of food began, like most people, at home, and flourished abroad.
“It started as a family thing, but really amplified from traveling. The more I was exposed to different international cultural approaches, the more it grew,” says Peter.
“I don’t have a signature dish per se, but I have somewhat of a process for building a dinner for friends and family. On the practical side, I first take the time to understand diet preferences and restrictions. After that I try to design around the seasons and what’s best that I have access to. I have relationships with a few local farms around here and people always like hearing about an ingredient’s origin and freshness. Then I see what it evolves into on the plate. This narrative is very similar to the architectural design process and how the designer is the link between countless building materials and systems and a final project that is customized for a client’s needs.”
Peter can chart his growth in the kitchen with his growth as a designer, pointing at a few specific instances where he had the chance to expand his studies.
“It grew opportunistically. I didn’t know that my interest in cooking, ingredient sourcing, our relationship to food, and design would really come together until I was exposed to a culinary school design project. Once I was really involved in that project, I was able to see all the levels that culinary education builds on. It was really the perfect mix of my personal and professional interests,” he says. Sometimes the two disciplines converge in a perfect marriage.
“I’m currently working on a project with the University of Buffalo that’s aimed at evolving the traditional dining hall model to meet student demand in a way that makes it more invigorating. Student dining centers today are starting to be modeled after places like the Chelsea Market in New York — spaces that are demand-driven and have a lot of hype around it. They have the flexibility to meet ever-changing consumer demand, both in terms of the offerings but also in the healthfulness of what’s being served.”