Flash-grilled: Ivan Orkin

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Japanese food expert and US-based chef Ivan Orkin on his love of ramen

Related tags Chef Ramen

The Japanese food expert and US-based chef, who's currently running residencies in London and Brighton in partnership with Sessions, on his love of ramen and his dislike of truffle.

What was your first industry job?
My first job in hospitality, in fact my first job ever, was as a dishwasher at a sushi restaurant in Long Island, NY. It was 1978, I was 15, and Japanese food was still very ‘new’. Everything at the restaurant was in Japanese, everyone was really nice to me and the experience changed my life forever. I decided to study Japanese, and everything went from there.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
Sometimes I wonder if I would have been an actor or a doctor. I’m fascinated by medicine and taking care of people, and the idea of healing is amazing.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
I’m a big fan of Ignacio Mattos, chef and restaurateur in New York. Everything he does is fantastic. His restaurants transport you – they make you feel special, you walk away feeling like you’ve had an experience. He keeps opening winners and he really deserves that acclaim.

What’s your pet hate in the kitchen?
Laziness!

Sum up your cooking style…
I’m not really a Japanese cook, but when I learned about ramen, I fell in love with it. Ramen is known for its very powerful flavours, but I prefer a style that has a more austere broth, such as the chicken and dashi broth that’s cleaner, brighter, and less overpowering. I want the ingredients to speak for themselves, the broth, the noodles – not super sweet toppings.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
I’ve been fortunate not to have had any bad official reviews. People say things though – so if someone says they ate at the shop and didn’t have the best service or the noodles were stuck together then I’ve got to check, but if they say they don’t like it, then I’m fine with that. Ramen is very personal.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
I’ll tell you what I tell my children, come in a bit early and stay a bit late. Work another 5% harder and people will notice. And if they don’t notice, then perhaps it’s not the place for you.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A sharp knife – you can do almost anything if you have that. Or a spoon or chopsticks.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
For most of my life I assumed it would be a sushi meal, or a perfect steak. I also think a perfect pizza would be up there.

À la carte or tasting menu?
Really depends on the day.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
I’ve had so many! I recently ate at Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, and that was pretty spectacular.

What’s your favourite fast food joint?
I haven’t eaten fast food since 1980!

What’s the most overrated food?
Truffles – it’s very personal though, and I’m sure others would disagree with me. If truffles were cheaper, they wouldn’t have the same caché.

Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Jerry Garcia, Kurt Vonnegut, Harpo Marx and Frank Sinatra.

What’s your earliest food memory?
The first day at the sushi bar when I ate raw egg rice -at first it repulsed me, but I very quickly became a fan.

Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram.

What’s your tipple of choice?
Champagne.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?
Shio ramen - I spent a great deal of time and energy in getting it right, and to be acknowledged for that in Tokyo was tremendous.

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