• Claire Wu

Former Ippudo Master Offering New York-style ramen

Fumihiro (Foo) Kanegae had been working for Japan’s well-known ramen chain Ippudo for two-decades-long. Now he has opened his ramen diner Karazishi Botan in the Cobble Hill area in Brooklyn.

While ramen had long been a global sensation, in the past few years, there had been a spike in the opening of ramen restaurants across the country as numerous Japanese ramen chains came to the U.S. to establish the brand; amongst all include Ippudo.

“My mission was to spread the word ‘ramen’ to the world,” said Kanegae.

Ten years as the product development/general manager at Ippudo New York, Kanegae said he felt like he had achieved the mission as ramen continues to gain its popularity among overseas customers. Right around this time, Kanegae said that he had been considering resigning and open his restaurant someday, but the decision never went through. He eventually decided to “graduate” from Ippudo when his father passed away last year. Now, as he enters the next stage of his life as a ramen master, he accepted a new challenge ― introducing “New York-style ramen” to the world.

Inspired by the diversity of New York City, he created a menu that combines Japanese dishes with different culinary traditions around the world. Unlike the authentic Japanese style ramen he had been making in the past, Kanegae experimented over a hundred versions of the menu by incorporating various techniques he learned over the years to the making of the menu items.

“When we speak of Japanese ramen, we immediately think of Shoyu, Tonkotsu or Shio,” said Kanegae, “I hope that this could become a whole new genre of ramen, making this the New York-style perhaps.”

While there are only three ramens on the menu, each has its distinguishing characteristics. Captain Brooklyn is an “extremely spicy” ramen in which the chef would pour the oil over the soup before serving. Chef Special Iron-Men features a broth that’s cooked with chicken, oxtail and 16-month dry-aged pork bone. Ti Amo is a refreshing ramen that features a silky chicken and smoked oyster broth, as well as fresh lemon, mashed potato and crispy bacon on top.

Though he mentioned that he felt he had achieved his mission of spreading the word “ramen” to the world, Kanegae said he would still like to introduce authentic Japanese ramen to the locals, especially those who have never had the chance to try it. As part of his plans for the newly opened ramen diner, Kanegae is looking to provide traditional flavors of ramen during lunchtime.

The Importance of Connection

Kanegae’s words had not once but several times, revealed how he much value the connection with the people he encountered. “I couldn’t have done it by myself,” said Kanegae, “to value the people and the connection you have with them is the most important requisite.” He absorbed the information he learned from friends and former co-workers, which he then in turn utilized it to create a new and inimitable genre of Japanese cuisine. As a proud restaurant owner now, he upholds his value all the more so as he intends to build a connection with people across the counter.

The ramen master opened Karazishi Botan as a place where both the customers and the ramen master can laugh and have fun. “I don’t want the customers to come in feeling tied up, I want them to enjoy a good time here,” said Kanegae. Kanegae mentioned that people usually have the impression of ramen masters being scary because it’s a way of showing their professionalism. He said that when he was working at Ippudo, as a brand image strategy, he too had to put on a serious face while making ramen. With his restaurant now, he decided to approach differently, smile with the customers.

While originally opened with a vision of a cozy ramen diner that allows the customers to take their time and enjoy the food, within a week since the opening day, the wait times had already reached two hours. “I really wasn’t expecting such a large crowd,” said Kanegae. The restaurant was said to be highly expected by the locals who live in the neighborhood. Just like the story behind the name of the diner itself, Karazishi Botan shall continue to serve as a resting place for its customers and thrive in the heart of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

*Japanese version published in Kigyo Gaikyo April 2020

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