In order to better understand the intersection between cuisine and art, we had a conversation with Chef Tomonori Takahashi, the ramen master. Chef Tomo is the founder of JINYA Holdings and the innovative mind behind renowned ramen bars: JINYA Ramen Bar, bushi by JINYA, Robata JINYA, and JINYA Ramen Express. Building an empire based on Japanese cuisine and mastering the perfect ramen dish are two of Chef Tomo’s largest accomplishments. We had the opportunity to sit down and discuss his journey as a chef, his future plans, and the difficulties around franchising a brand.
Chef Tomo grew up in Ehime with a very traditional background. After college, he realized he wanted to see what else was out there so he moved to Tokyo and opened his first restaurant in 2000. By 2010, he moved and opened his first two stateside restaurants in Los Angeles, marking the beginning of his brand, JINYA Holdings. Since then, he has continued to expand the JINYA brand to now include over 45 locations of ramen bars.
Moving to a new country to start a brand based on his home country’s cuisine was no small task, but Chef Tomo confidently took it head-on. When asked what his favorite memory as a chef was, Chef Tomo responded, “hearing the customers responses to my dish that I had created.” Traditionally in Japan, it isn’t normal to give feedback on your meal because it’s customary to enjoy your food and then leave. Whereas once Chef Tomo moved to L.A., customers were expressing their appreciation for his cuisine by coming back into the kitchen or notifying the staff. This part of the American culture was very refreshing to him and a nice reminder that bringing his restaurants to America was a risk worth taking.
Inspired by our featured collection, we asked Chef Tomo what his favorite meal is to eat on a rainy day. He laughed and said, “What better to eat than a nice bowl of ramen when it is too dreary to be outside?” His ramen bars are even more of a hot commodity on those cold rainy days because Chef Tomo is not the only one whose go-to rainy day meal is ramen.
Chatting with Chef Tomo was exciting. His passion for work and his determination to succeed is inspiring. It enables you to understand how he was able to connect ideas and transform what may be seen as simple foods into true culinary art. He explained that a chef developing new menu items is closely tied to creating art, and that the presentation of the food is very important. He stated that you have to take the colors, style, and placement into consideration.
Chef Tomo’s goal was to bring authentic Japanese food to the U.S. However, in order to attract customers, he had to make it appealing to American taste buds as well. Therefore, Tomo spent a lot of time developing the perfect menu items by researching current western trends and looking at what types of options are on popular local Japanese menus. By combining a base of Japanese cuisine with a more western presentation, he was able to perfectly blend the two cultures to create a unique experience that can only be found at JINYA.
Tomo is now not only a chef, but the founder of JINYA Holdings, which includes over 40 restaurants. All of this success meant there had to be a tradeoff because he couldn’t work in the kitchen as much as he used to. Moving to the U.S. has caused his focus to shift to growing the JINYA brand. Although he loves being in the kitchen and creating new menu items, expanding the brand is his highest priority at the moment.
Chef Tomo’s ambition comes through especially when he talks about his dream for his company. He talked about Eataly, which is a marketplace made up of Italian restaurants, Italian food, beverage counters and more. He enjoys how it creates an experience of browsing Italian food while you’re in the middle of a major American city. He stated, “I want to create the Eataly of Japanese food.” He dreams of creating a one-of-a-kind, authentic Japanese experience in the U.S. and beyond. One that allows people to enjoy the food of his homeland.
”Do it! Speed is important, never stop and think if it’s worth it. Once you find your idea, do it and be positive and move fast! Pursue any creative ideas you have.”Chef Tomo
For those that have creative passion or a unique idea that are unsure of how or if they should pursue it, Chef Tomo gave some great advice. He finished our discussion by saying, ”Do it! Speed is important, never stop and think if it’s worth it. Once you find your idea, do it and be positive and move fast! Pursue any creative ideas you have.”
So, there you have it. Be sure to check out the JINYA location nearest you. You won’t regret it.