But first, a test: When you think of Japanese food, what comes to mind? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably either a sushi bar or one of those Benihana-style hibachi place where the chefs prepare the food right at your table/ grill. But to reduce “Japanese cuisine” to a pair of dining styles not only minimizes the rich culture of Japan, it completely disregards one of its most famous dishes: ramen.
“It’s my wife and I’s favorite kind of food in the entire world,” gushed Dominic Cochran, director of the Lansing Public Media Center and cofounder of both the Capital City Film Festival and production company Ahptic Film & Digital. “I took three trips to Japan in one year, and we would eat ramen twice a day sometimes. It’s amazing food.”
“But wait,” you’re probably thinking, “Ramen is just instant noodles eaten by poor college kids, right?” Yes and no. The version you’re likely familiar with is the fast food version of ramen, created by a Japanese businessman after WWII as a solution to world hunger —cheap, quick and healthy. But Maruchan-brand ramen is as dissimilar from traditional ramen as, say, the McRib is from a slab of Southern-barbecued baby backs.
Cochran was discouraged to find that while other parts of the U.S. had discovered ramen, mid- Michigan was a little slow on the uptake. An idea for opening his own ramen shop started to form in the back of his head — and then Cochran saw on social media that Steve Swart, a former associate of his, was looking to do the exact same thing.
“The wheels were already turning, but then I saw (Steve) posting about having an awesome ramen dinner in Chicago and wanting to bring it to Lansing,” Cochran said. “I saw that, and decided we needed to be working together.”
Cochran and his wife, Mai Sasaki-Cochran, had already been in talks with the owners of Golden Harvest about the idea. With Swart aboard, Supu Sugoi — Japanese for “awesome soup” — began to simmer.
“We’re doing this in a completely authentic way,” Cochran said. “It’s a four-day process, there’s no way around it. We’re hand crafting the noodles, which are really the only constant among the different types of ramen. We cure our own pork belly. We make our own chicken and pork stock. The ingredients are kept separate until the end, and combined just before they’re served. That way we have total control over the consistency. I’m obsessed with consistency and quality.”
Cochran said ramen is extremely regional, so that a bowl you get in one part of the country will be completely different from one you get in another part. The type he plans to unveil Nov. 4 will be a style popular in Hokkaido, a region he chose for a specific reason.
“Michigan shares a latitude with a Hokkaido, so we have a similar climate,” Cochran said. “This style is miso-flavored, and has really big flavors. They have great vegetables like us, (and the broth is) very bold, with garlic and onion notes. And they use smoked and cured meats, which everyone in Michigan loves.”
And keeping with that tradition of utilizing local flavor, Supu Sugoi will source most of its ingredients locally, grabbing ingredients from Melo Farms (pork), Titus Farms (chicken), CBI's Giving Tree Farm and Khoua's Veggies. Cochran, Sasaki-Cochran and Swart will then transform the meat, produce and seasonings into four courses, with some potential amuse-bouches (chicken hearts, anyone?). The first course will be gyoza, pan-fried dumplings that will be made from scratch. After that comes the yakitori (chicken skewers), followed by the ramen.
“We’re really focused on making that awesome,” Cochran said. “I think people are going to flip when they try it for the first time. It’s 180 degrees different from dorm room ramen.”
Finally comes the dessert gyoza, made with homemade Michigan plum butter and served with mochi green tea ice cream. There are already three more pop-up events scheduled: one at Midtown Brewing Co. downtown, one at the Avenue Café on the city’s east side and finally one at Hannah’s Koney Island in East Lansing, across from campus. And if the pop-ups take off the way Cochran et al. anticipate they will, Hannah’s could become a regular location. But his priorities aren’t on turning a profit — at least not yet.
“We’re not making money, on this,” Cochran said. “We’re just trying to share something with Lansing that we love and thought (diners) would really enjoy. That’s all. I just think it’s funny how a simple bowl of soup can inspire so much passion.”
Supu Sugoi (inside Golden Harvest Restaurant) 1625 Turner St., Lansing Dinner by reservation only (two seatings) 6 p.m. & 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 $20, tickets on sale 2 p.m. Friday supusugoi.brownpapertickets.com For more information: facebook.com/supusugoi