When I started Ramen, the concept was to learn everything about it and recreate it in a way only I can...by hand.
I learned as a washoku (japanese cuisine) chef in Kyoto, and moved back to Kobe where I was born to open my own restaurant. After running that business for awhile, I moved to America to realise my dream of coming here. I started a Japanese restaurant first and ran it for about 5 years, which was a washoku restaurant, but it did not go the way I expected. That experience made me rethink of everything I knew about Japanese cooking and reimagine it into concentrating it into a bowl of Ramen. The starting concept…was to make everything by hand, from scratch. I didn’t have any formal training as a Ramen cook, so I trained at Haru Ramen in San Jose to learn the essence of Ramen. Based on what I learned there, I revisited the ingredients to remake them from scratch.
Back to the first restaurant you opened in America…that was in Sacramento?
Yes. At the time everybody was about the sushi craze. And sushi rolls were ever so popular. What I was trying to do was not that type of cuisine, so the business direction was a little different for the times maybe. When I started Ramen, the concept was to learn everything about it and recreate it in a way I only can...by hand. The soup, ta-re (sauce mixture), Goma paste, Ra-yu (spicy sauce), etc. And the more I went in deeper into that concept, the healthy way emerged from it. That became the unique characteristics of Shoki’s ramen.
Your Ramen does not use [animal] grease…how does that go with American customers?
Quite well actually. As a matter of fact, even back when I used to run the washoku restaurant I’ve seen customers, for example, take the breading off of the Tonkatsu (a kind of fried pork dish comparable to the southern food chicken fried steak) I observed these customers and concluded that it was because they didn’t want the grease, as much as possible. I’ve also seen customers separate the fatty part of Chashu (popular ramen topping made of pork) before eating it and many other similar examples I can go on about. So I realised, the grease has got to go, at least if I was going to make Ramen for a particular audience.
Did you initially have some of resistance to changing the traditional ways of Ramen?
Well actually, no. Because I already had the experience with the previous restaurant endeavour, which wasn’t accepted the way I wanted it to, I knew this time that I wanted to figure out a cuisine that would widely be accepted and loved by the American audience. It was absolutely crucial that I paid attention and listened to what people wanted. And the more I listened, the funner it became. When I first started in America, it felt like everything I trained for, my skills, were all useless but this was sort of a redemption of that, that none of my time and effort was a waste. Though the dish has become Ramen, it is still making use of techniques used to make washoku. For example, if I have to use a can of pre made Goma paste, it contains peanuts. So I find it necessary to make it from scratch, without peanuts, for those that cannot take the risk of having it in there. And because of my background in washoku cooking, it allows me to do that. It’s a good feeling.
Can you summarize the concept of your Ramen?
American bred Ramen. In other words, it is meant to be regional food, food developed out of culture that’s particular to the land. Great food comes from original ideas but often deeply rooted with the characteristics of the food produced by the region. For example, Chicago is known for making great unique pizzas. The local water they use to knead the dough in turn makes the characteristics unique, chewy dough! I wanted to make food that was accepted by the local’s taste buds. The “Healthy” concept came about because of what the local people were asking for on top of that.
Could you give us a glimpse into the plans for the future?
As for local activity, I think we have enough physical locations. However, we’d like to continue to communicate with the community through the media and various events that we are here, a truly healthy style ramen. I hope to also collaborate with brands that specialize in what they do and taking strengths of both parties to create something new. Of course, we can be talking about two different genres working together but it can happen within the ramen community as well. For example, many ramen shops do not make their own soups. They buy it from a pre made manufacturer. Many places add their own flavouring on top of it but many just reheat the package. So if ramen shops are looking to purchase a healthy alternative soup stock, we can definitely collaborate.
Job postings related to this interview :
2675 24th St, Sacramento, CA 95818
- R St.
1201 R St, Sacramento, CA 95811
Yelp : http://www.yelp.com/biz/shoki-ii-ramen-house-sacramento
Phone : 916-441-0011