Richmond, Virginia is brimming with incredible food, but there's a gaping hole in the city’s offerings - RAMEN. Shockingly, there's absolutely nowhere in town to get a decent bowl...that is until now. Will Richardson, aka the “Ramen Ninja” and the man behind Shoryuken Ramen, has come to the rescue by bringing us steaming bowls of the good stuff.
Sadly, the common perception of ramen is that it should be relegated to the college dorm room. But real-deal, authentic Japanese ramen is made with fresh alkaline noodles and a broth that takes at least 48 hours to make. This is the ramen I constantly crave and the kind of ramen Shoryuken is cooking up.
Will has made a name for himself by leveraging the power of social media. Twitter has been abuzz with news of a chef making serious bowls of noodle soup at pop-up restaurants around town. My curiosity was instantly peaked. I would hear of a Shoryuken Ramen event, just to find out it had completely sold out within days. Intrigued, I was on the hunt for this mysterious chef, the man who I knew would cure my ramen woes.
After some digging, I tracked down this Ramen Ninja who was gracious enough to sit down with me for an interview.
How did you develop your ramen recipe?
I grew up in my family’s Chinese restaurant and to me my grandparents were the greatest chefs in the world. Actually half of my ramen broth is my grandma’s recipe. The chicken part of my “double soup” is her chicken soup.
I also developed a noodle recipe and commissioned a company in Japan to make the noodles, which are shipped to me.
What does “double soup” mean?
My master stock is a double soup meaning it’s 50% chicken stock and 50% dashi, which is a stock made with dried shitake mushrooms, katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes), and kombu (dried kelp).
Did you go to culinary school?
No, but I went right into the restaurant world since my grandparents owned one. My mom told me that instead of going home from the hospital after I was born, she took me straight to the restaurant.
I wasn’t originally going to do food - my family was really against it. They had the attitude of, ‘we worked in a restaurant so you wouldn’t have to.’ But when I went to college, I returned to restaurants out of necessity and ended up feeling so at home.
Since you come from a Chinese background, have you always gravitated toward Asian food?
When I was younger I was more interested in classical French cooking and I intentionally strayed from Asian food.
Then in 2006 I became the sous chef of DD33 Asian Bistro and while developing the menu, the smells and flavors of all the Asian ingredients spoke to me.
I had a moment that was just like a scene from the movie Ratatouille, the one where the food critic ate the ratatouille and instantly flashed back to his childhood. That really happened to me. It was then that I went back to my grandmother to learn from her.
Knowing both Asian and French techniques has served me really well because I can incorporate them both when preparing my ramen.
How did you get the title “Ramen Ninja”?
I’m not sure. Somebody made that up and it seemed to stick.
Do you like the name?
I don’t know…I guess it fits with the clandestine way we started. I started making ramen at people’s houses and I would sling noodles anywhere that would have me.
What is it like operating a pop-up restaurant?
I wanted to start on a grassroots level, forging relationships with the restaurant community. A lot of places open up with a competitive mind but I wanted to take a collaborative approach. There are so many chefs doing cool things in Richmond.
Do you think the mystique of pop-up restaurants adds to your appeal?
I think it has, but it wasn’t intentional. I started this ramen project like I’ve started many bands. I picked a name and put it on twitter and facebook and just went for it. My wife encouraged me to post some pictures of the ramen I was making at pop-up dinners.
All it took was a few retweets from food writers like Karri Peifer and Robey Martin and overnight it seemed like everyone was interested Shoryuken Ramen.
Where did the name Shoryuken Ramen come from?
I played a lot Street Fighter as a kid. It’s a move in the game that means ‘Rising Dragon Fist.’ I actually just wanted to be able the answer the phone and say shooooryuuuuken. Me and my gamer friends thought it was perfect.
Have you encountered Richmonders that don’t understand what Japanese ramen is and don’t take it seriously?
Yes. I try to explain how serious ramen is by comparing it to the love of barbecue in the States. The barbecue craze in America has nothing on the ramen craze in Japan. The Japanese are obsessed with the stuff and will eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What plans do you have for future pop-up events?
I’m interested in approaching a couple of my favorite barbecue places around town about doing a barbecue ramen for the summer.
To get the inside scoop on the next Shoryuken pop-up event "like" them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter:
Twitter Handle: @ShoryukenRamen