The Lord of Ramen (Vive Cooking School with Harunobu Inukai)

The first time I sashayed (read: hurtled) through the doors of VIVE Cooking School, I was late and on assignment for The AU Review. Their launch event was a cooking class with housewife heartthrob Manu Fieldel and Julien Vasseur, VIVE’s head chef. Even though VIVE’s classes are typically run in pairs, I ended up doing the class solo; bumbling even more than I usually would be, on top of trying to snap as many decent photos as possible for my write up later. This, my first “real” cooking class, blew me away. Fast forward a year later and I’m still late, but back for round three at the school.

VIVE Cooking School Rosebery

Find someone who smiles at you, the way I smile at raw chicken in cling wrap

What I enjoy about being in the VIVE space is how much it truly embodies the spirit of collaboration. Yeah, ‘collaboration’, that buzzword that corporates have somehow managed to reclaim for use in tired boardrooms. If only they would trade laptops and PowerPoint presentations for stainless steel saucepans and a damn good looking Smeg fridge. Perhaps then they’d be able to make a mean Singapore Chilli Crab and also see how much the culture at VIVE really is worth lusting after.

Despite the fact that these sorts of classes always end up being a mixed bag of people (and they really are) I have only ever encountered positivity and an eagerness to learn from my fellow classmates. Our teachers in turn are as, if not more, excited to be demonstrating technique and imparting knowledge to us. My third class had a videographer filming the event and even she was excited. But how could you not be, when we were about to learn how to cook ramen from the man, myth and legend, Harunobu Inukai.

VIVE Cooking School Rosebery

Haru-san and I first spoke in the comment section of my blog a few years ago when I wrote about one of my visits to Ramen Ikkyu, then located in Sussex Centre. I had never been to Blancharu, his former French-Japanese fusion haunt, but the idea that he had shoved one up on fine dining in favour of a humble stall in the corner of one of Chinatown’s busiest food courts, has always intrigued me. Traces of his past life creating more formal cuisines did show up from time to time. I once inhaled a so-smooth-it’s-buttery lemongrass panna cotta that was set in a plastic takeaway container, normally the vessel for soy sauce. The contrast of such a refined taste against a 賑やか backdrop, only made it all the sweeter.

Our class duration is three-hours long. We joke that it would be 12 hours had the creation of the broth be an active part of the lesson. Instead, Haru-san runs us through a rough estimation of how it’s done (all accurate weights, measurements and steps are sent out to students via e-mail after the class) and shows us one that he’s already had bubbling away for hours.

Next, we’re making ramen noodles. I was a little bit sceptical at the time over our ability to actually make edible noodles. If you’re familiar with thick and chewy pan mee from Malaysian cuisine, that’s exactly what I don’t like. Halfway through this process, we became worried that the actual verbal instructions from Haru-san were lost in the cacophony of the class, why is he handing out garbage bags to us? Cue ‘This is what I think of your firm and slightly sticky dough balls!’Another set of instructions, knead the dough with your feet. There was method to the madness however, our dough emerged from aforementioned garbage bag, smooth and pliable.

I was ecstatic that we were making chicken chashu, not the pork variety. Even better, the recipe only had two ingredients, chicken breast and salt. It’s incredible how juicy and flavoursome the end product is, no doubt a testament to the excellence of Haru-san’s sous vide. Our recipe included a normie way of making it also which goes to show that sometimes, simple, quality ingredients and good technique are all you need.

Compared to everything we’ve made so far, the nitamago was actually something I could see myself making on a regular basis. I was surprised at how short a time you actually needed to marinade the eggs, for the soy-mirin-sake mixture to impart their flavours. The fun part comes when you get to use a fishing line to cut the eggs in half. Haru-san also showed us how to prepare memma (the stuff snack-dreams are made of), tare and something mysteriously known as ‘umami oil’.

The equivalent of Judgment Day in this ramen class is of course the part where we actually make the noodles after our dough has rested. As it turns out all my scepticism and worry was for naught because Vive had these amazing electric pasta rollers that are idiot/Sam proof and all of our noodles turned out perfectly.

I’ve failed to mention that throughout the entirety of this class (and all of the classes I’ve previously attended) we had Jean-Luc, founder of Vive Cooking School, on hand to assist. Jean-Luc has the uncanny ability to sense when a student is having trouble, when a guest chef needs something before they even ask or when there are used utensils that need to be washed. He’s simply just a caring and intuitive person which makes sense because he’s in an industry that relies a lot on gut feeling. I have the utmost respect for him, the way he runs the school and what he has already achieved in the short amount of time that it’s been running. That respect skyrocketed even more when he started churning out noodles using a manual pasta roller.

Tonkotsu broth. Ramen noodles. Chashu. Memma. Nitamago. Tare Mix and Umami Oil. A symphony came together in a bowl, with an encore performance that was the sound of us slurping it all up. There were so many parts to it, it’s amazing that we were even able to produce our bowls of ramen in our lifetime. Few people truly understand the intricacies behind the creation of ramen. Maybe because it’s priced so cheaply or the fact that making it seems so effortless when you rock up to a hole-in-the-wall in Tokyo and all they do is assemble it. You don’t see the hours that have gone into labouriously crafting every component, each a recipe, a dish, in and of itself. It was a privilege to learn from Haru-san and to be back at VIVE Cooking School.

All photos by Jeff

Samanthawxlow attended the ramen master class as a guest of Vive Cooking School

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  1. Nice post Samantha. so beautifully explained.

    1. Thank you!

  2. The class sounds awesome and Haru is such an energetic and funny guy! Miss the early Ikkyu days. Yeah, lot of work goes to making ramen. I normally start prepping days ahead for my noodles, chashu, menma and ajitama haha. Even ramen with lesser density broth take time coz you have to make tare with greater impact. Alright, I’m geeking out now lol

    1. Definitely deferring to you as ‘the’ ramen expert. I was reading your ‘best ramen in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara’ post a few weeks ago and it made me think about how truly diverse a bowl of ramen can be, even just in the Kansai region. Have you seen Ivan Ramen on Chef’s Table? One of my favourite episodes!

    2. Yah echo that. Haru is the best. Always has time for a chat and always carries a smile. Loved his stuff at Ikkyu. I hear he’s got plans for something new though, wouldn’t tell me what but I’m for sure there when it opens.

      1. 100%, such a warm personality and a pretty funny guy too. I’ll race you too his next venture.

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