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Ramen Lab: Noodles for Ivan

Yesterday, I had the honor of being given exclusive access to the “still somewhat secret” new Ramen Lab that’s started producing tailor made noodles and soups for chefs around the country. Early Monday evening, I was shuttled out to a non-descript business park in Teterboro, New Jersey to meet the dynamic duo who are now cooking up all kinds of craziness here on the East Coast, Sun Noodle’s General Manager Kenshiro Uki, on the right, and Japanese ramen guru Shigetoshi Nakamura…

Check out their brand new American workshop…

The reason for my invitation to their Lab… the guys have been tasked with personally preparing the noodles for acclaimed Tokyo ramen restauranteur Ivan Orkin who will be inaugurated into New York’s noodle network tonight with a special event at Momofuku Noodle Bar! And they wanted Eataku on hand to give readers an inside look at all the action.

So last week, Ivan revealed the menu he’ll be serving…

Ivan Ramen Classic Shio Ramen – chicken and dashi double soup, blend of japanese sea salts, thin rye noodles, pork belly, 6 minute egg, hosaki menma

Ago Dashi Hiyashi Shio Ramen – chilled flying fish dashi, lemon, blend of japanese sea salts, slow roasted tomato, warm chicken breast

Tonkotsu, Pork Fat, Bacon and Triple Garlic Mazemen – pork neck, chicken feet and roasted vegetable soup, pork fat, bacon, fresh, pickled and roasted garlic, thick whole wheat noodle

Ken and “Naka” wanted to give me a look into their production process as they made Ivan’s rye noodles from scratch.

However, having made the trip all the way out there, they first served me a little snack, starting with an incredible bowl of freshly-made wavy noodles in a chicken soup that Naka has been slaving over for eight hours!

They pointed out that there was no steam rising from the bowl as the layer of chicken fat produced was so thick that it kept it all in as a way to keep the broth hot. Ingenious! I’m sorry my pics don’t do it justice…

Next up was a bowl of Naka’s special mazemen, here served with charred scallions and powdered bonito…

Insanely tasty!!

As I had my back turned while eating, Ken and Naka blended the ingredients for Ivan’s super secret rye noodles, which are made to his exacting specifications. Then, once the blend was in the machine and the recipe had been locked away again, they let me observe and document the noodle-making mania!

The noodles start as a mixture of flour, water, kansui, egg, and in this case, rye, which is one of Ivan’s specialties. Everything is carefully measured out in amounts the three men have painstakingly worked on, testing and testing again, factoring in all kinds of conditions, down to weather and humidity. The mix is then initially blended for three minutes where rice-sized balls are formed…

After airing the mixture by stirring by hand, it’s then blended again at a slower speed for nine minutes so that it starts to better congeal into bigger globs or “balls”…

These balls are then loaded into a compound press where they’re flattened…

It’s interesting to note that ramen, unlike pasta or soba, is better not pressed and kneaded by hand. It needs constant and specific pressure to keep its texture and tooth. (I’ll have much more info on such specifics involved in the overall process in interviews in future posts.)

Here comes Ivan’s rye “dough”, being flattened for the first time…

It’s then rolled up as it comes out…

You can clearly see the texture the rye gives the dough…

It’s then taken back to the beginning and double rolled at higher pressure, compacting the sheets even more…

Getting flatter and smoother, as you can see here…

The dough is then rolled a third time, now under a sprinkling of corn starch. As Ivan’s is a rather thin noodle, the corn starch is needed to make sure the layers don’t stick before the cutting process…

The entire roll is then wrapped in plastic and left to rest for 20 minutes to firm up before cutting. As it rests, Ken and Naka adjust the cutting blade to the width, in millimeters, that each chef desires. Here, if I remember correctly, Ivan asked for these thin rye noodles to be cut at around 1.3 to 1.4mm.

Here they come…

A few of the first off the line are discarded there as they were too short…

They’re taken by hand…

…rolled into balls by hand and packed for delivery. Voila!

In order to guarantee they’re delivering a noodle of the perfect taste, texture and quality that Ivan demands, Ken and Naka cook up a test batch for themselves… and me!

The soup in this case was Naka’s as Ivan will of course be making his own mouth-watering magic tonight. It’s really just the noodle these guys were making sure they got right.

Which they did.

The end result…

Just gorgeous, isn’t it?!

And let me tell you… it tasted even better! :)

I hope to see many of you out at Momofuku Noodle Bar this evening where you can sample for yourself why Ivan Ramen has become one of Tokyo’s most buzzed about ramen joints! And for those not in NYC, expect a full report up on Wednesday!

Huge thanks to Ken and Naka for inviting me out yesterday!

Please follow their Ramen Lab at @RamenLab.

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    This is amazing
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