Pros: Articulate, engaging writing with colorful memoir
Cons: Not as much cookbook as treatise on a few dishes
by Ivan Orkin (Author) with Chris Ying (Author)
Reviewed by Jim Berman
Ivan Orkin wrote a cookbook as much as he penned a piece on motivation. He wrote about the nuance of subtle, nearly unperceivable flavor as much as he composed a book on survival. He wrote a lesson for cooks as much as he scribed a lesson for living. Ivan Ramen is a timely prescription for bringing refreshing energy into the kitchen; learning about patience; grabbing the cojones of adversity and creating opportunity. From Long Island to the audaciousness of opening a Ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Orkin recounts his odyssey with colorful acumen, droll narratives and cunning detail.
The first near-hundred pages are autobiographical. And Orkin has something to say. How could he not? He was on the other side of the world with a vision, a proverbial hole in his heart and a mission… no… a dream (yes, I said it!) to get his obsession successfully launched into the material world. Orkin forays into his early relationships with family and food, his meandering kitchen creativity through and outside of Japan, as well as culinary school. Appreciatively, he gives due page space to his creative process and approach to mastering ramen. And if Orkin’s diatribe on consumption doesn’t suffice, David Chang’s foreword offers his, albeit aggressive and colorful, take on what to expect when feeding ramen to Americans, on the eve of Orkin’s opening a New York installation of Ivan Ramen.
The depth and breadth of his signature ramen recipe is a mind-scrambling, facet-sickening, anal-retentive, absurdly grotesque conflagration of beautiful attention to detail that you will probably never unearth. Hefting in at over 30 pages (including pictures) with visual primer, the prescription for his Shio Ramen is, by Orkin’s admission, nearly impossible to replicate for most of us. Orkin masterfully lays out the recipe for modestly novice cooks with patience. He does a great job of ordering the mise en place and then layering the recipe into components to build the final dish. Why impossible? The availability of ingredients is not quite what it needs to be unless you are in, say, Japan. There are myriad recipes for other options and variations on ramen, as well as yakisoba and a smattering of sides and desserts.
If you pick up Ivan Ramen and never venture into the recipe portion, you will be satiated with a worthy dose of good writing, life-lessons and witty tales of adventure, leaving you full of ramen in both psychology and good feelings.