Joshua Smookler the man behind Pete Wells’ favorite ramen has been a busy man of late. In between the birth of his daughter and the run-up to Mu Ramen,which is set to open mid to late October, he was kind enough answer Seven Questions.
Will you be unveiling any new ramen?
Yes, we will have four types of ramen that will be seasonal. Three of the ramens will always be on the menu; Mu Ramen, Spicy Miso, and the Tonkotsu 2.0. I have not decided which four we will open with but we will always have five ramens on the menu and one rotating on a weekly basis.
What types of ramen could they be? It could be anything from Tsukemen, Foie, Duck, Pata Negra, Parmesan, Seafood, Shoyu, Yuzu, Paitan, Kimchi…basically these ramens I have mentioned I have already made.
They are all very delicious, but I want to keep it fresh. So we will see which are popular and which are not. It really depends on the guests, how I feel, and what inspires me.
What do you like the most about opening a new spot? What do you hate?
I love the creative process. That is the most fun part of anything I do. I get bored very easily. I have to be always creating. It’s what I find I am best at. I hate paperwork! But, sadly it must be done. I hate the tedious things.
What are some of your favorite places to dine and shop in Queens?
I love Sichuan cuisine. I think Little Pepper in College point when the Dad is cooking is spot on. However, their service leaves a lot to be desired. We have decided not to go back there because we feel like we are intruding, but their food is really good. We also love xiao long bao from Nan Xiang Dumpling House. For really good gamjatang, we go to Geo Si Gi on Northern Boulevard by the Murray Hill section of Flushing. We do a lot of our shopping for our home at any of the local H Marts.
I love Geo Si Gi. Where do you look for culinary inspiration?
Heidy and I eat out a lot. When we go out to eat, we eat at a lot of critically acclaimed places. I feel in order to make great food, you have to eat great food. When I eat at restaurants, and something strikes a chord, that is what inspires me. For example, in L.A., my friend took me to a restaurant called Musha. That was the first time I ate an okonomiyaki.
I thought the okonomiyaki was interesting but I felt it lacked something. That’s when I decided to make my own type of okonomiyaki. When I think of food, I want to show it in a new and different way, but something that is still familiar but it should be reinterpreted to what we as New Yorkers understand it as food. I do not try to make “authentic” Japanese food. Once someone tries to make food “authentic,” it has too much room for error. Who is that food “authentic” to? It’s like us Americans going to Japan to eat “authentic” pizza. If you’re from Chicago, you might understand pizza as a deep dish. If you’re from New York, you may understand it as the Neapolitan style. But even with these so-called styles, you or someone else might think Juliana’s or Lombardi’s or John’s or the old Grimaldi’s where Juliana’s sits now are the real deal.
We all have different interpretations of what “authentic” is. So I make my food, my food and in a very New York style. New York is a melting pot of so many cultures. I am lucky to have worked in many great restaurants so I get a lot of my ideas from the technical prowess of these places with flavors that impress me.
What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Wow, that is a funny question…but right now, I have smoked trout that has just been smoked, ikura, two lobes of foie gras, A5 Kobe beef ribeye, 129-day dry aged USDA prime ribeye, micro carrots, heirloom tomatoes, a bottle of Cedric Bouchard Inflorescence Champagne, assorted micro greens, assorted fruits from the green market, assorted fresh herbs, Fiji water, half and half, unsalted butter, Vermont pure maple syrup, gochujang, Sriracha and milk.
What’s all this I hear about okonomiyaki with foie maple syrup?
Yes, that will be on the menu. The foie maple syrup is inspired by leftovers at home while making waffles for my children and family. I had foie left over in my fridge when I decided to render the fat from the foie into the maple syrup. I poured foie syrup on our waffles that were topped with chocolate ice-cream and crispy pancetta and it was a revelation. I loved it so much that I decided that one day, I will use this on one of my dishes.
What’s the last thing you ate good, bad or otherwise?
One of the best meals I had in a very long time was at a place in London called the Ledbury. It was Heidy’s and my first time traveling together. We met our friends from across the pond there and we had an amazing time. But what really struck me was how passionate the chef was at the Ledbury. His enthusiasm was infectious. When he showed me his kitchen, I was shocked at how small his kitchen was and what amazing food he was producing from that tiny kitchen. And not only that, he just wanted me to taste everything he was making. It was really a great time for us all.
Mu Ramen 12-09 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City