Hiromichi Igarashi and Tadanori Akasaka have the experience and drive to elevate the ramen movement in Orange County. Why would I make such a statement? Well, how many restaurateurs and chefs of ramen joints really want to help future ramen concepts succeed? Exactly. Hiro responds to my inquiries when he’s not trying to feed a packed dining room at Irvine’s TRADE.
How did the two of you meet, and how did the decision to collaborate on a restaurant come about?
I used to work for this ramen shop in Gardena called Mottainai (closed in 2015). Nori was president of the company. We both have lots of experience in the ramen industry, but we knew if we put our passion together, we will make something great.
What is the key to excellent ramen?
Harmony. Noodle, broth (stock), base sauce and topping. All elements have to keep balance with others and pulling out the flavor from others. It’s a team play.
What is your most popular item on the menu?
Definitely Tonkotsu ramen. Our broth is boiled for 24 hours for richness and taste.
One food you can’t live without?
Seafood. Sushi, pasta, soup, any kind of food with seafood.
Favorite places to eat.
Anywhere that has good vibes.
I read on your business card that you are also in the business of teaching how to make ramen. Could you please elaborate on that?
We teach how to make ramen for other people, because we would like to spread the good and real taste of ramen to all of the world.
Since we have been in this industry so long, we have learned some of the key points to make a successful ramen restaurant. Not only making good ramen, but also we can give advice to make a successful ramen business such as location, concept, target, taste, menu items, recipes, management, kitchen operation, customer service, accounting, etc.
Best culinary tip for the home cook.
Cook for someone with love.
How did you decide to open in Irvine?
Orange County already has good ramen places, but we believe that our concept can be unique and definitely fill up people’s demand that other restaurants don’t have.
You’re making breakfast; what are you having?
Green smoothie, scrambled eggs and oatmeal with some fruits.
Where exactly did you grow up, and what brought you to California?
I was born and grew up in Fukushima, Japan, but came here 10 years ago to make a great ramen restaurant.
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Playing soccer every day and driving two to three hours to go eat one bowl of ramen every weekend with my parents.
Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
Working for someone who didn’t care about employees and customers.
Last thing you looked up online:
Searched for some Spanish words; learning to speak Spanish.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I was homeless for a year. Came to this country 10 years ago to do something great, but was struggling the first six years.
Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
Nori plays the guitar; I play piano.
Favorite meal growing up:
This ramen from a very old restaurant in my hometown, next to the beach. Owner/Chef is an old lady running it by herself. Only two tables and can fit eight people, max. Very simple shoyu ramen (it’s called chuka soba). Clear pork and chicken broth, curvy medium-thick noodles, bamboo shoots, green onion and lean pork meat. I’ve been curious about how they make such a perfect flavor since I was little.
What profession would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
Something creative. Architect or designer.
Is there anything you’d like readers to know that we haven’t asked?
We try to keep serving the best ramen. Hopefully, we can entertain all of the people in the world in the future. Thank you.
HiroNori Craft Ramen is located at TRADE, 2222 Michelson Dr, Ste 234, Irvine; (949) 536-5800.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.