Japanese-American Chef Transports Flavors From His ChildhoodBy Elle McLogan

[Editor’s note: This venue is closed indefinitely as of 5/31/2019.]

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – At Ramen Shack in Long Island City, ramen is an obsession.

“I am a ramen freak,” said chef Keizo Shimamoto, a Japanese American born and raised in Los Angeles.

His pursuit of perfect ramen took him to Japan, where he honed his craft.

“I spent four years in Tokyo, and I studied at three different shops,” he said.

“I [traveled] from the northernmost island of Hokkaido to the southernmost of Kyushu, and I ate 55 bowls in 28 days once,” he said. “So I’ve experienced all these different styles… but still, my heart goes back to the Tokyo-style shoyu ramen. It’s a light chicken broth with a little bit of fish and deep flavors of soy sauce.”

“I’ve been trying to mimic [a] bowl I had when I was six years old, when my mom took me for the first time. So that nostalgia has been stuck in my head, and I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.”

Upon returning to the States, he put his skills to the test.

“Ramen Shack started as a pop-up,” he said. “It slowly evolved into what it is now, a seven-day, ten-seat operation.”

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He infuses his broths with aromatics like ginger, garlic, and napa cabbage—flavors that take time to mature.

“A bowl of ramen can take two weeks to make,” he said.

Shimamoto is as deliberate about eating ramen as is he is about making it.

“You can eat [ramen] any way you like, but for me, I like to sniff the aromas first. Then I take a little bit of soup, and then I’ll go on to the noodles and then the toppings.”

“When I go to a ramen shop, I usually don’t like to share,” he said. “The bowl will change as you eat it, so that first sip, that first bite will hopefully not be the same as the last.”

Slurping noodles can be a key part of the process.

“When you slurp a bowl of ramen, it enables you to use more senses to enjoy the bowl,” he said. “A bowl of ramen is really piping hot, and you want to eat it while it’s hot, so if you slurp, that air that goes into your mouth with the noodle kind of cools it down at the same time.”

For him, ramen can provide an emotional experience.

“Not really chatting too much but getting lost in your own thoughts, that’s when ramen is at its best,” he said. “After a long day, you’re trying to find comfort. Sometimes when you have soup and noodles, it just touches you.”

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At Ramen Shack, Shimamoto offers customers a piece of his culture and history.

“For those people that have had ramen in Japan, I want them to feel nostalgia. If they’ve never been to Japan . . . it’s representing my background,” he said.  “I grew up in both cultures, and a lot of the parts of the Japanese culture that intrigued me growing up, I want my fellow Americans to feel that too.”

Ramen Shack
13-13 40th Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101
(929) 522-0285

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Elle McLogan