The latest food trend is super local food tourism. Led by Chefs like Rene Redzepi of Noma and Ana Ros of the Hiša Franko.
I have never talked with Rene or Ana nor dined at neither of these establishments so I can only talk with my perception of what information there is in the media and with second or third hand information about Brisbane Chefs that have worked at Noma, so some might rightfully be appalled for me to compare or even talk about my humble ramen shop in the same page as these super stars but I wanted to talk about it. Honestly, I think what they are doing is great and I love their passion and it is inspiring but I don’t envy them or idolize them at all. I know what my concept is and I think we are on the same plane in the context of providing a delicious food experience, but we are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.
Noma and Hisa Franko, they strictly stick to super local produce and forage for the ingredients themselves. Of course ingredients are fresh and by foraging, they are able to embrace the wild flavours sometimes unavailable in commercial or domesticated farmed ingredients. Chefs know the ingredients deeply so it is super traceable. The down side is, as a customer, you are paying for Rene and his superstar chef team to forage wild ingredients. This is super inefficient, so uneconomical and basically goes against why man planted a seed in the beginning to start farming. Of course the food mile on the plate is super low but to dine at Noma and Hisa Franko, customers are travelling super long miles to get to that table and forking out a fortune for the meals. Of course this is all good and I would love to dine at these restaurants once in my life and that is what it is, an once in a life experience to travel and immerse yourself in what the local land and sea has to offer, presented by the experts of the land, through a culinary experience.
The reason why I fell in love with ramen is because it was so delicious and affordable at the same time. It’s made with bones that would have been thrown away and have no prime value and the plating is so systematic you don’t need Academy trained Chefs or silverware, linens, back office staff to take reservations or in the case of Japan, cashiers even. You cue up in the line, once inside, put your money in the ticket machine, wait for the cooks to assemble the soup, toppings, noodles in a few minutes, eat, clean your bench, and leave, vacating the seat for the diner behind you. Easy it is, but delicious it is… That soup has been meticulously calculated and perfected time and time during the history of the shop or maybe even longer when you consider the added history of any mentors the shop owner might have had. The charsiu has been boiled and marinated to perfection, the egg has been intricately prepared, all the hours of hard work, condensed into the single bowl and yet, due to the simplified process and efficiencies you can enjoy it for less than your hourly wage. You can afford to enjoy it every day if you wanted to.
We don’t forage but I also believe in local produce like local shallots, sprouts, organic eggs, where possible and where it is important. The freshness is great and often irreplaceable. but in some instances, we use frozen produce like Edamame. Pork, my good friend jolly Pat drives it up from Bangalow weekly so my hundreds of customers don’t have to travel 300km. Well it’s a balancing game. I like to make my own noodles using locally milled unbleached flour with our small noodle making machine and that is less efficient compared to purchasing large scale factory made noodles. So I think, to my customers, just as Rene is to his customers, I am being a trusted expert to be the guide to combine various quality ingredients and passion to produce an experience but in my case, we factor in economy so that I can provide an every day food experience. The dollar value of this everyday experience is of course a fraction of the price of a meal at Noma and so I am able to offer this to more people on more occasions. So it gives me great satisfaction in providing so many local Brisbane people with an authentic delicious but everyday food experience. And the accessibility and repetition creates a relationship. During the 8 years of serving ramen to Brisbane, I have seen babies born, kids grow up, and even a few regulars pass away. I feel a strong connection with my customers and when I see a top haute cuisine chef talking on the media or receiving an award with their proud expressions, I somehow feel happier than them and reinforce my belief in keeping at what I do.