NY Ramen Contest Winner for Two Consecutive Years “HEY! Takuchan” Aims Ahead | FRIDAY DIGITAL

NY Ramen Contest Winner for Two Consecutive Years “HEY! Takuchan” Aims Ahead

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Contest-winning ramen skills demonstrated at the “Grand Tsukemen Expo”!

Takuchan, a monomaniac comedian, HEY! Takuchan is now the owner of Onisoba Fujitani (Shibuya), one of Japan’s leading ramen stores (Photo by Shiori Bancho)

Taku-chan is both a monomaniac and the owner of Onisoba Fujitani, a ramen restaurant in Shibuya’s Center Gai, and has won numerous ramen competitions since 2011, and in 2019 he won the Grand Prix at the New York Ramen Contest, a specialty contest within the popular “Japan Fest” in New York City. He also won the 2022 contest, the first time the contest was held in three years, making it his second consecutive win. We asked him how he felt after winning and what his goals are for the future.

Japan Fest…A popular food festival where visitors can enjoy Japanese culture. The average annual number of visitors is said to be as many as 150,000. (Courtesy of HEY! Takuchan)

The latest ramen situation in New York City that inspired us

–Congratulations on winning the “New York Ramen Contest” for the second year in a row! This is your first contest in three years, with Corona in between.

Takuchan (hereafter, Takuchan): I was exhausted on the way home, but I am just glad I went! I was so happy when they said, “The winner is Onisoba Fujitani!” I was so happy that I couldn’t speak when he said, “The winner is Onisoba Fujitani!

After returning to Japan, I called Ms. Nawa to tell her about the win, and I cried then, too (laughs)” (courtesy of HEY! Takuchan).

(courtesy of HEY! Takuchan) — Why did you decide to enter the “New York Ramen Contest” again?

Takuchan: After I joined COVID-19 crisis, I was not able to do what I originally wanted to do, which was to make good ramen and have many people eat it. I was already very frustrated. After that, when various things started to be lifted little by little, I decided to do what I could do for now, and started attending night classes at a culinary school. Eventually, I developed a desire to showcase what I had learned at school, and naturally I thought, “I will definitely enter the New York Ramen Contest, the first one after Corona! I thought.

If I were to use a comedian’s analogy, it would be a situation where you have a good story but can’t perform live. It is hell not to be able to perform when you have something that is sure to be popular.

–Do you have any concerns about the world situation or the weak yen?

Takuchan: To be honest, I was. The cost of travel and lodging has doubled over the past three years (laughs). I didn’t know the cost of ingredients until I got there, and I was very anxious, but my desire to make ramen for the “New York Ramen Contest” and to have many people try my ramen blew away my anxiety about the weak yen (laugh).

(Laughs.) We also won the contest in the “Tokyo Ramen Show 2011” and the ramen category at the “Grand Tsukemen Expo 2016.

–How was your first time in New York in three years?

Taku-chan: I thought ramen was becoming more and more popular. Eating with chopsticks has become the norm, and I was not told “fork please” as much as I was three years ago.

Also, there were more ramen stores in town, and popular restaurants had lines of people waiting in line. I think it is partly because ramen is cheaper than in other places, at around $18 to $20, while prices are rising, but all the stores were crowded.

I went to eat at two restaurants, and there were all kinds of customers, including women eating alone, couples on dates, couples, and elderly people. Some of them were eating while working on their computers, which is something you don’t see in Japan, so it was a new experience for me.

What made me happy was that many people asked me to take pictures with them. I was being filmed all the time while preparing the food, and it reminded me of my days on TV about 15 years ago (laughs).

(Laughs.) “Some people even waited for us to finish our business, as if they were waiting for us to leave. In Japan, that would never happen.

In New York, I was able to get a good feel for things, and I realized, “I’ve grown in three years.

Excellent ramen soup born from failure

–In what ways have you grown?

Takuchan: I was able to make soup that tastes so much better than it did three years ago. I think it is impossible to make a better soup than this. But the trigger was a failure.

We served a thick miso ramen with lobster, and I overcooked the main lobster in the oven. Normally, I would have thrown it away, but in culinary school, I was told, “Sometimes ingenuity after a failure can work miracles. Having the curiosity to try is also an important talent of a chef.

Then, imitating the French cooking method of making the most of the charred bits, called “jus,” I boldly added the charred bits to the soup pot, and although it looked sludgy, it turned out to be a very rich and tasty soup.

I am not kidding, but thanks to this mistake, I have grown one step further as a chef.

–What was the feedback from the customers?

Taku: Personally, I think it was well received. We hired an interpreter to translate what the customers said throughout the contest, and we received various comments such as, “It’s really delicious,” and “Why don’t you open a restaurant here? I received all kinds of compliments. New York is the most advanced city in the world, and of course I admire it, but there are many hurdles to open a restaurant there, so it is not easy to open a restaurant there. But I heard that if you rent a space between shops, the hurdles are not that high, so I thought it would be a good idea to try in that way.

I heard that there was a line of about 80 people in front of the restaurant. We could only make it for four servings each, so it was tough in that sense as well (smiles)” (courtesy of HEY! Taku-chan).

The “Grand Tsukemen Expo 2022,” where contestant’s ramen can be eaten

–Takuchan: Will you be able to eat the same ramen as in the contest at the “Dai Tsukemen Haku 2022” on November 5 and 6?

Takuchan: At the “Dai Tsukemen Expo,” we use a quartet of soup made with a large amount of lobster, pork, chicken, and Japan’s three famous Omi beef, as well as Japan’s finest pork chashu and roast beef from Japan’s top quality black beef as ingredients. This is a limited edition of the “Dai Tsukemen Haku 2022,” so I hope lots of people will try it.

After that, I would like to put into practice what I learned in New York and make “Onisoba Fujitani” more powerful. I had a chance to meet someone who runs a ramen shop over there, and we talked about many things. He told me that the cost of living in New York has been rising, and it is much harder to run a ramen shop than in Japan. Even in such a situation, they were trying to survive, and I was very much inspired by their attitude.

I want to graduate from being a restaurant that just serves ramen to one that is one rank higher, so my challenge is far from over (laughs).

The “Gorgeous Lobster Miso Ramen,” winner of the New York Ramen Contest

Click here for the official website of Onisoba Fujitani

  • Interview and text by Motoko Abekawa

    Motoko Abegawa is a freelance writer mainly for the web. She is also involved in the production of books and corporate PR magazines. She does not specialize in any particular field, but covers a wide range of topics that intrigue her, including history, comedy, health, beauty, travel, gourmet food, and nursing care.

  • Photography Shiori Bansho

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