For some, crafting the perfect bowl of ramen is much more than an art, it's an obsession. Meet Richie Nakano. Accomplished chef, business owner and someone who's defining the Edgë, in part because he’s living on it. With a wife and new baby on the way, Richie left behind a steady job at the heart of the recession in pursuit of an idea. You could argue this might be foolish, we say it's anything but. The desire to control one’s own destiny, to carve one’s own path and defy expectations, is a road few of us ever dare to travel.
Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras "It was the first book that really opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about food."
"I always tell young cooks to work where they’re inspired. They have to be prepared to sacrifice, to suffer. Pay dues. Learn the craft. Too many cooks these days want to create without knowing the basics. To become a great chef you must be patient, resilient and master the ability to communicate."
In addition to the pizza and wings, throw in a hearty bowl of ramen when you're watching the big game.
Ramen Validation in Tokyo and Beyond
My career as a ramen maker has been relatively short, albeit greatly rewarding and exciting. My goal with my ramen has always been to deliver something unique: An Asian-American take on the popular noodle soup that didn’t conform to any particular style or rule. Something tasty and simple that people hadn’t tried before. However, in the early days of Hapa Ramen I was not greeted with thunderous applause and pats on the back. Online reviews could be downright mean … and there was always someone there to say, “Have you been to Japan? Have you tasted the ramen there?”
“You have to go. It’ll change everything for you.”
I often lamented comments like this. And with every passing instance of trying to explain how the broth wasn’t tonkotsu or shoyu, or how we used whole pigs instead of making traditional chashu, and why there were no bamboo shoots in it … I became frustrated. I told my cooks we weren’t allowed to use Japanese words on the menu. I strove to westernize our menu as much as possible. A menu meeting before a pop up would inevitably involve me saying something like, “No…too Asian. That’s not us.”
As our ramen recipe evolved and improved, I realized that there was no ignoring what our guests wanted from us. Aspects of traditional ramen making slowly weaved their way into our recipes. And when the opportunity arose to travel to Japan, I leapt at the chance.
Ramen in Japan is everywhere. There would be times walking down the street where my friend would point out every ramen-ya within eyesight, often going on for minutes. Ramen eating there is a serious business. Often you make your selections at a vending machine near the entrance, wait for a seat, grab a stool, shut up and EAT. Rarely did I see anyone enjoying a leisurely lunch over a beer and a plate of gyoza.
The first and most surprising aspect of my ramen experience there was the variety in styles, toppings, etc. Mostly bowls were a bare bones affair. You could add scallion, or extra pork, or nori, but you were charged for everything. A bowl usually started at about $11. Broths ranged from gravy heavy to delicate and dashi driven. Noodles were tasty but I didn't see a single shop that made their own … how could they in these tiny little 500-square-foot spaces?
Most of what I had been told about ramen in Japan was turning out to be wrong.
Anyone who found out I was a ramen chef in the states was usually very amused, and when I would tell them we made a hybrid style and used seasonal ingredients, they would get wide-eyed and excited.
"All ramen here... same flavor. You should open Hapa Japan" one of my dinner companions said one night. It was validating. My ramen experiences in Japan were delicious and inspiring, but mostly they made me feel proud of what we had created back home. My second day back notes went on the chalkboard to get everyone thinking, and our first set-of-changes have already been implemented. We also named our style finally. Nakanoramen — Hopefully on offer in the motherland someday.
- Richie Nakano