ramen night.

Food, Story

If I can tell you any truth, it is that I had no idea what I was doing.

This goes beyond “Fake it til’ you make it”, because if we’re all being honest, we do know what we’re doing, or at least trying to do. Whether or not it’s the quality you desire, it just takes time and practice.

A few months ago, I had a person on Instagram (Who I’ve actually never met, nor do I know) from Hattiesburg message me about doing a Ramen night at our restaurant. I brushed it off because we do sandwiches and salads mostly. Like most ideas others toss on me to mull over, I rejected almost immediately. But, I let this one marinate and it got under my skin.

The masochistic part of me, which most chefs are to some extent, knew we would be crushed. I laid awake at night trying to figure it out. I also know that in general, if I set my mind to it, I can probably overcome the “drag” part of my brain that really just wants to sit in my chair and play Overwatch all day.

I made a batch at home, inspired by Ivan Ramen. I figured if anyone was going to have an idea how to sell this stuff to a crowd in south Mississippi, it would be him. Technically, it’s very labor intensive. I had to source a lot of ingredients online, as well as a few different asian markets in the south.

After all was said and done (around 11pm) I finally had my composed bowl of ramen and it was insane. There was depth. There was some element of magic. It worked. Afterwards I thought, “Okay. I guess I can do this now.”

So, I set a date and it blew up. I knew it would. People like ramen. It’s cool. It’s fun. If done right, it is so completely satisfying. Like a big hug or a good conversation.

The word kept spreading, and I kept feeling it in my stomach.

“I’m going to have a make an epic shit ton of this.” I kept thinking.

Along with ramen, I wanted a few other fun snacks. We had Okonomiyaki, Tofu Coney Island (our token vegan option) and Chaschu Pork Cubanos, also inspired by Ivan Orkin.

Between working on the line and my usual daily toils, it took me about three days to prep. The day of the event, I spent in the zone. Pacing myself. I was already tired and the event wasn’t for another six hours. I was caught up, so I went home and laid down for thirty minutes. I somehow managed to doze off for ten minutes, but it was enough for my brain to restart. I felt good. I felt excited.

The kitchen crew showed up. I hurriedly ran through each part of our line. They seemed blitzed a bit. It was a lot at once, but I knew way before we began that they would handle it. We made everything once. Let the staff try it and everything got a full mouthed “thumbs up”.

I walked across the dining room to see a line stretched around our building. I figured people would be piling up. But not that many.

I gave the go ahead to our FOH to open the doors.

For the next three hours my head was buried in tickets. Bowls of ripping hot broth burning our hands and steam filling our faces with sweat. We were in the deepest weeds ever, but we were calm. And people were having a great time.

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About an hour and a half into service, I looked out and the line was still wrapped around the building. I knew I had to cut it off at the door. We were getting to a point where the last person was waiting nearly an hour to get their food, and for the sake of compromising the quality, we had to break some hearts.

I felt awful. But I also still had about 30 tickets hanging for food and knew some time down the road, we would do it again and I would make up for it.

We fired off our last bowl of ramen about 8pm. I looked at my team and we were all running around like crazy, half smiling half exhausted.

To be honest, my head is still buzzing.

We had done something.

I felt a crack in the Earth. People were glowing. Excited. Fed.

It won’t ever feel like that again, or at least in that way. That, was so super special, and my heart is still full.

I don’t know if it’s masochistic. I really just want to give people something good, in hopes that they respond to it.

To those who came out: thank you for standing in line and waiting. Thank you for waiting again and for your response.

To those we had to turn away: know that it crushed my heart to do so, and I hope you understand that sometimes, food runs out and we didn’t want to sell it to you only to take it right back. We will make it up to you.

And to the cosmos and universe for feeding me the energy to try something new, over and over again, I thank you.

let’s do it all over again,

and again

and again.

Josh Makes Pho

Uncategorized

I have talked a bit about soup before, and my anxiety towards it.

It’s still not something I make a lot for myself, but after waking up one morning with a head full of whatever it is that gets in there when you’re sick, I needed something hot. Something right.

I grew to love pho and ramen in Portland. Its climate is good for steamy soup dishes. On particularly cold days, you’d find the pho houses packed to the gills with folks leaning over their steamy bowls of brothy goodness.
I figured, why not share this little dish with y’all. I’m not reinventing anything here, and this is one of the most simple things you could ever make. But you do have to do a few things right, and maybe I can help you in that process.

Stock.
I use chicken bones because it’s what I have most regularly hanging out in my freezer from my obsession with roast chickens. I wait till I have about 5-6 carcasses/backbones before I make a stock, because like I’ve written here before, you really need a lot of bones to make a good gelatinous stock.

Making stock needs some time. (Don’t we all?)
Restaurants will let them go overnight to extract all the marrow and flavor, but I did mine in about eight hours.
In a big pot, throw in your chicken bones and cover with cold water. Put on a high heat until it comes to a simmer, and lower the temp so you can keep a good, low simmer. Maybe a few bubbles popping up every so often.

I guess I’m weird in that I don’t add my vegetables until the last hour or so of cooking. I strain my chicken bones, then I add the vegetables. And this is your basic ratio of onions, carrots and celery. Use 2:1 on the onion to carrot/celery ratio. I do the same for my gumbo stock as well, by adding half a bundle of scallions, whole. Toss in a few bay leaves, a whole head of garlic and a few pinches of salt.

Once your vegetables are cooked, strain and set aside. Your basic chicken stock is now done. You can keep reducing it if you’d like, but I like to have a good bit to cook with for future meals.

Time for soft boiled eggs. Don’t be afraid. It is easy, they just need your undivided attention for about 7 minutes, okay?
Bring up to boil a couple of inches of water in a small pot, it won’t cover the eggs completely. That’s okay. Once the water is boiling, toss in however many *refrigerator cold* eggs you want and cover for 6 1/2 minutes. When they have finished, place directly into an ice bath to stop the cooking process, yo. That’s important.

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Now, comes the fun part. By now, you should have your noodles of choice in hand. I found these simple, thin wheat noodles at a local Thai market that were delicious and easy. They cooked in about one minute, but really, the noodle is important. I prefer wheat, as I think it carries the soup a little better. Adds more substance, which a person afraid of soup will love.

Dish out your broth into a bowl. This is where you season with your salt. By salt I mean actual salt, but also soy and fish sauce. Taste as you do this, because all of our palettes differ. I season with kosher salt till it’s almost where I like it. Then I add soy. Taste. Mm. Okay, fish sauce. Fish sauce is important, but it can overwhelm a dish. Use it like hot sauce. Little bits at a time until you have what you want.

So, your broth is seasoned to perfection. Now, strain your noodles as much as you can and drop them into your broth. Make sure it’s  in a bowl that can contain a lot of goodness, but it will continue to get larger as you build.
I forgot to mention you could add meat at this point, but I didn’t really have anything to add. Usually it’ll be something like thinly sliced pork shoulder or meatballs, maybe even some little slabs of pork belly. All are delicious, I decided to keep this simple. (and cheap.)

This is when I throw in herbs and condiments.

A hefty 1/4 cup of cilantro, plus stems.
5-6 torn leaves of sweet basil or thai basil if you have it
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
About three tablespoons of thinly sliced scallions
The juice of half a lime

This is also when I cut my egg in half and place slightly submerged on top of the soup. I’ll crack some fresh pepper on them babies too. This is when you start getting really excited for all your hard work.

For heat, which I feel is a must with pho or ramen, I add fresh chili paste via sambal oelek. You can get that stuff almost anywhere these days. Usually it’s right next to your beloved sriracha, which I encourage you to use sparingly. I say that because this is a dish of complex flavors. If you put too much heat in, all you’ll taste is heat. Give it just a little nudge and see how far it takes you.

This is a great dish to make for a lot of people. It also looks super impressive. The picture I took can’t do much justice, but it really is such a nourishing and comforting dish to make when you feel a bit under. It jacks up your taste buds and gets your senses moving a bit.

Any questions, I’m happy to answer.

Enjoy!