Global ramen force Ippudo recently held their third annual ramen competition. That's founder Kawahara-san (河原) above. Out of 176 entries, only 14 were invited to present their bowl to a jury of ramen professionals. I was honored to be invited as a judge, and though I approach ramen in general as fun food, I took this seriously. The winner would get 3,000,000 yen, about $30,000. Amazing.
The theme this year was dashi. I think this follows the current trend of thinking in Tokyo's ramen scene; focus on something simple, while doing everything you can to extract as much umami flavors from your ingredients as possible. All of the ramen was fantastic. Here are some of the bowls.
Chef Suzuki-san (鈴木) crafted a tai and salt ramen with an aroma of orange peel. There were a lot of Italian influences, and the addition of an olive and sun-dried tomato paste added a lot of depth.
Chef Kimura (木村) went super simple, and the roasted nori senbe on top was fragrant and beautiful. Under the nori was a kinchaku, a tofu bag filled with minced chicken and mushroom that exploded in flavor when ripped open. The soup went from simple and fragrant to intense and flavorful. Very cool.
Chef Nakamura-san (中村) from Nagasaki used whale as his main ingredient. Whale can be a bit gamey, not something you would expect to be used as an ingredient in a light soup. But the chef's skill with a controversial ingredient from his hometown really came out in the end product.
HIPPIE RAMEN ～Hollywood Legend～
Chef Isobe-san from Los Angeles based Tatsu Ramen made a vegan ramen. Wow, this was actually one of the best vegetarian ramen bowls I have ever tasted. I think if America can contribute one thing to the world of ramen in general, it is excellent vegetarian versions of a typically meaty dish.
Chef Sasahara-san (篠原) focused on things that have been and will always be good. Simple and delicious. I dug the softly scrambled egg, which melted into the soup and gave it a rich, eggy flavor.
NORIDASU RAMEN (EMBARK)
Chef Conner Callahan is the kitchen supervisor at Ippudo in New York. Donning his colorful uniform, he came with a complex bowl that told the story of his connections with ramen and the sea. Three kinds of dashi, a dashi foam, and plenty of Italian influence from his childhood growing up in an Italian fishing village.
GREEN TEA NOODLES
Chef Futa-san (太田) works at a tea shop, and made this playful macha ramen. She wanted slurpers to exclaim "Kawaii!" when they were served, and it sure worked. The taste wasn't sweet at all, instead tasted of a chicken soup base.
The winner? Chef Kimura-san took home the prize. Congratulations, your bowl really shone. You will be able to try his ramen in Ippudo stores across the country soon. Here it is one more time.
Check the video we made!