Cookbooks with a tale is one of my favorite book genres. Ivan Orkin, known to many - this writer included - as Ivan Ramen. A few years ago, my business school friend, Michael Vito, introduced me to ramen and let's just say it was love at first slurp. Michael has described Ivan to me as the John Lennon of ramen. His book, Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint, lives up to that comparison. His book is to ramen lovers what Let It Be is to music lovers.
It all begins with a child who grows up in a house where food is seen as fuel and not art. Through the wondrous imagination of a child, in this case little Ivan, food becomes a self-made salvation, and eventually a way to make a life. In college, Ivan majored in Japanese studies and as a rather lost 20-something college graduate, he moves to Japan to find out just how much he's learned. He falls in love, has a small family, moves back to the U.S. to attend the Culinary Institute of America (incidentally this is right near my hometown), and then tragedy strikes in much the same way as it strikes the protagonist of the Jimmy Buffett song He Went to Paris. But never fear - Ivan's love of Japan, food, family, and life in general help him hold it together and he finds love again in the romantic sense and in the kitchen.
After a decade in the U.S., Ivan and his family make their way back to Japan where he eventually opens his first ramen shop in a sea of ramen shops. His relentless pursuit of the perfect bowl and the diversity he brings to the scene make him a stand-out shop, and in a short time, he rises to the top of his game - finally whole, finally happy in every way. It's a beautiful story of triumph and delicious broth.
The remainder of the book details the love and care that go into the preparation of each intricate ingredient of ramen. Ivan reveals all his secrets, and then unveils the biggest news - he's opened a New York City-based shop on the Lower East Side's Clinton Street. I practically ran out of my apartment to grab a bowl, and then realized that the shop was probably closed for the evening. It was 1am. Rest assured, I'll slurp my first bowl of Ivan's ramen soon and with great gusto. This book made sure to put his shop at the top of my must-visit list. Ivan Ramen will be released on October 29, 2013 and is available for pre-order via Amazon.