(Photo courtesy of Brightest Young Things)
The Flea and Smorg’s beloved Yuji Ramen has gotten oodles of buzz lately. Be it catching the eye of The New York Times with his Kickstarter campaign, or just creating another convert to the untapped potential of ramen—especially his dry mazemen-style specialty—the native of Japan’s Tochigi prefecture seems to be singlehandedly reinventing NYC’s already-strong relationship to the food (and word). As he heats up, next week Yuji launches his very own pop-up/test kitchen at our SmorgasBowery Whole Foods second-floor space, from March 12 through May 12, where he’ll be serving dry and broth ramen for lunch every day, plus two reservation-only dinner seatings Tuesday through Sunday. In the meantime, if this interview gets your tummy rumbling, find Yuji this weekend (and every weekend) at the Flea. Go Yuji!
What inspired you to specialize in mazemen ramen? How long did it take you to master and where did you learn?
I wanted to make ramen more accessible for the people in the U.S. Slurping noodles in hot broth is not always easy. People can enjoy mazemen-style ramen like pasta, which they’re more used to. I also wanted to make ramen more culinary and creative. With mazemen-style, I can incorporate many culinary techniques that are not usually associated with ramen. It was also a way for me to showcase and explore the possibilities of local fresh seafood. I have always loved and enjoyed cooking as a hobby for the past 10 years, but had never attempted to cook ramen. I decided to cook mazemen-style ramen one year ago. So, it has been only one year and I am trying to find ways to improve my ramen dishes everyday. I don’t think we can ever master it, as there is no end.
What’s one thing about ramen you think the general public doesn’t know and should appreciate more?
In Japan, ramen is very local. Each region has its own ramen style using their local ingredients. In the U.S., this trend has also started happening. People should explore different types of ramen and find their favorite style.
You’re about to be featured as a pop-up vendor at the Smorgasburg space at Whole Foods Bowery. How are you planning to expand your menu?
I am expanding my menu by featuring a never-ever done “ramen omakase.” It is a ramen tasting menu by reservation. The menu will be seafood-driven and each ramen will come in different styles. I’m very excited about this.
If you could invite three public figures to dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?
I can only think of Ichiro Suzuki (New York Yankees). He has been my idol since when I was an elementary student and now I am in New York and so is he. I would like to serve “Suzuki mazemen” with local striped bass, which is “Suzuki” in Japanese!
And finally, what’s your favorite part about working at the Flea/Smorg?
The fact that I can talk to the customers and see them being happy! That is what drives me the most to be more creative.