Restaurants / Openings

World Renowned Ramen Spot Hits Texas — Chef Ivan Orkin is Spreading His Gospel of Unifying Food

Get His Japanese-Beloved Ramen or Order a Special Box to Make Your Own

BY // 05.07.21

Ivan Ramen took Japan by storm when it launched in Tokyo in 2006, allowing its chef Ivan Orkin to join the rarified ranks of true Japanese ramen masters. Orkin appeared on the third season of Netflix’s foodie fantasy Chef’s Table. The episode detailed the rise of the world’s unlikeliest Japanese ramen king. Orkin, you see, is a Jewish man who hails from New York.

Now Texas is just getting its first taste of Ivan Ramen thanks to the pickup/delivery only (ghost kitchen) model. Orkin’s now famous ramen landed in Nebraska first, home of Flagship Restaurant Group, which is the owner of Blue Sushi Sake Grills, and is now available in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth via four Blue Sushi Sake Grill locations.

“There are 15 Blue Sushi Sake Grills nationwide, and the plan is to introduce Ivan Ramen into all of them over time,” Orkin tells PaperCity. “It’s been well received, especially in Lincoln, Nebraska and Austin so far.”

Ivan Ramen rolled into Fort Worth in February, followed by two Blue Sushi locations in Dallas in March, and the snappy noodles just arrived in Austin’s The Domain mixed-use development at the end of April. This where Orkin was overseeing the most recent launch, when I spoke with him for this exclusive PaperCity interview.

Chef Ivan Orkin is ready to feed you ramen and teach you a how to cook Japanese at home.

“I’m here working with the team on the roll-out, and the ramen is on point,” Orkin says. “This ghost kitchen concept is a way to provide people with food that they are interested in trying, with limited overhead.”

When Orkin first opened his 10-seater ramen counter in Tokyo, the Japanese ramen critics didn’t want to like his fresh take on one of their cult cuisines. But darn it, the years Orkin spent perfecting the dish, from its laborious broth to its hand-made noodles, gave them no choice but to embrace it.

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Orkin became an overnight sensation, and the lines began to form. For the full backstory, check out his episode on season three of Netflix’s original series Chef’s Table.

“People think ramen has a long history in Japan,” Orkin notes. “But, it’s relatively new, and was just really becoming popular worldwide in the early 2000s.

“I’m not really a ramen geek. I’m a Japan geek. I love everything about the culture. It was more of an anthropological experiment to open my first ramen shop in Tokyo ― an opportunity for me to figure out how to do everything in Japanese.”

The word for a foreigner in Japan is gaijin. It’s not a compliment ― it means you are an outsider. While the Japanese are among the most gracious and hospitable people you’ll find anywhere on earth, as an American living in Japan, you are always patently aware that you are an outsider.

You have to make the country your home for decades and speak the language fluently to ever be accepted as anything other. That’s what Ivan Orkin did, and why his acceptance as not only a proficient ramen maker but becoming a noted authority on it is such a spectacular accomplishment.

Orkin’s toppings include the unexpected tang of oven-roasted tomato, and the recipe for his noodles adds a touch of rye flour (a nod to his own Jewish heritage), elevating his ramen to cult status. Orkin opened Ivan Ramen stateside when he returned to New York City in 2012.

Spreading Boxed Joy

The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chef is neither heady nor aloof. Like his food, he’s very approachable and welcoming. For Orkin, Japanese cuisine is a way to introduce others to the place and the people he loves. His wife is Japanese, his children are biracial, bilingual and bicultural.

“I’ve always been a little disappointed about how little people actually know about Japan. But, that’s changing,” he says. “A lot of my customers become curious about Japan from eating at my restaurant and then they go to visit.”

As hate crimes, targeting Asian Americans continue to spike, especially in Orkin’s hometown of New York City, and with the month of May dedicated to the innumerable contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, Orkin is teaming with Asian food site Yami to cast an even wider net. Yami X Ivan Orkin Boxes are launching this week nationwide.

Yami Ivan Orkin box1
Ivan Orkin teams with Yami to curate all the ingredients you need to cook a few recipes from his Gaijin Cookbook.

Inside each specially curated box you’ll find the ingredients needed to execute each of six Japanese classic recipes from Orkin’s cookbook, The Gaijin Cookbook.

“The cookbook was really a collaboration between me and my wife Mari. I told my children that it is a journal of all the food they’ve been eating all these years. My home is about 70 percent Japanese. We are a bilingual and bicultural family,” Orkin tells PaperCity.

“For me personally, I love to cook, but you have to get all the ingredients assembled first. It’s a little intimidating.”

Plus, a lot of cities across America simply do not have access to a good Asian market. These Yami boxes are filled with all the ingredients home cooks need to get started no matter where the home cooks live.

It’s the ultimate kit for Japanese home cooking. The first of these Ivan Orkin curated boxes includes the authentic ingredients you’ll need to prepare six dishes: a dashi (the base layer for many Japanese dishes), oyakadon (often called mother and child, it’s a chicken and egg dish), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets), yaki onigiri (those bento box staple grilled rice balls), a pork curry, and a spicy chicken somen noodle dish.

New shelf stable boxes to create the next set of recipes, shared by Chef Orkin, will be introduced quarterly.

Yami’s mission is to help people learn more about Asian cultures through food (and other authentic goods). And to ultimately promote acceptance and appreciation. Orkin shares the same mission to connect and build understanding through food. Together they are using this as a platform to bridge cultural divides.

To secure a specially collected Yami box, and learn to cook a few classic Japanese dishes from the master himself, check out YamiBuy.com. If you’re in Austin, Dallas or Fort Worth, you can order Ivan Ramen and not have to cook it yourself.

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