Oh where to begin? Well the story of this whole crazy journey began with a conversation on a porch. I guess that’s how it works. A sparkle, a glimmer, an idea, a yearning……then the turning point comes. ACTION.
My first evening as OTAKU was a little bit like running into a burning building.
NEVER had I served 200 people at once, and NEVER had I been paid to serve 200 people at once. The pressure was heavy, but I did myself a favor and just kept going. That’s the beauty of a project like this…once it is set in motion, there is no baking out. People are showing up hungry.
How did I ever decide that I was going to make ramen for crying out loud? Cause I was hungry for it? I missed it? “This is absolutely nuts”, I remember saying to myself as we hauled 200 quarts of stock into the kitchen to prepare for the evening. Did I REALYY know what I was doing. Nope….not a fucking clue.
I know how to make a dish taste good, maybe 20 dishes….but 200! The heat began to my cheeks as people began to arrive. We decided to run the gauntlet and go for three seatings. I wasn’t really sure where I was going to be; on the line, in the noodles, serving, but I did what came naturally to me, I talked to my guests.
The whole experience became real for me the instant I saw one couple in particular come in. I knew it immediately; this was the gentleman who had emailed me and told me that he served in Japan. Through some delightful email exchanges, he went on to tell me that he had fallen in love with the food. Oh boy, this almost scared me more than the couple from Tokyo in the back. This man had some major nostalgia tied to this food.
I asked him how long it had been since he had a real bowl of ramen, “50 years. The last bowl I had was in Sopporo (the birthplace of ramen).” I choked up and told him that I would be hand delivering his bowl in a few minutes.
“I need two pork VIP please!” I yelled into the kitchen as I entered. Everyone looked at me like, WHO?
I walked two boiling hot bowls of ramen out to this gentleman and his wife, and quickly scuttled back to the kitchen. For the first time the entire night, I stopped. Peering over the half door from the kitchen, I waited to see him take that first bite of the noodles and sip of the broth. With his spoon in one hand and his chopsticks in the other, he raised his chin from the bowl, eyes closed, and still for a few moments. He remembered. My ramen rang that memory bell for him.
The night could have ended there for me. It was the most honest and earnest response to my food I could ever hope for.
Pictures by Will Holland.
A special thanks to 12 South Tap Room, Will, Alex, Nancy, to Christy for her blind belief in me and to my AMAZING kitchen crew for rocking it and making me look so so good.