Ivan Orkin was born on Long Island NY in 1963 to Louise and Leonard Orkin. His mother’s notorious lack of skills in the kitchen and his father’s incredible work ethic helped shape him into the man he is today.
A dishwashing job at a sushi bar in Syosset, Long Island when Ivan was 15 opened his mind to a new culture and cuisine that he simply could not stop thinking about.
After graduating from high school, Ivan decided to major in Japanese language and literature in college. He then moved to Japan to teach English in the country he would one day call home. Eventually, Ivan returned to the United States, married a woman he met while in Japan, and decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America. Ivan then spent years in NYC cooking everything except Japanese food. Stints at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Judson Grill, and the NYC French Stalwart Lutece honed his understanding of hospitality, food and cooking.
Ironically, Ivan never thought of combining his love for Japan and food until years later. Ivan’s story is often misunderstood. Many paint him as a chef who became infatuated with ramen, moved to Japan to “learn from the masters” and then returned to the US. This is actually the opposite story. Ivan is a Japanophile turned chef.
Eventually the draw of Japan lured Ivan back and he returned with his wife and kids in tow. Together they raised their family while Ivan tried to figure out what his next step was to be. He taught cooking classes, and struggled to decide which type of business to open. It was at his wife’s urging that Ivan decided to open a ramen shop. This is where Ivan finally could combine his love for Japanese culture, his training as a chef, and his infatuation with the cuisine of Japan. The first shop was simply an expression of this. He viewed it as a restaurant, not a ramen shop, and approached his craft with the training of a professional chef versed in two cultures and cuisines.
Ivan made history as the only American to ever open a ramen shop in Japan. Not only did his shop open, it opened to: critical acclaim, huge lines, and thousands of Japanese devotees. The meteoric success of IVAN RAMEN Tokyo led to countless international articles, TV appearances, a successful cookbook, and acted as the springboard for Ivan to open not one, but two successful restaurants in NYC. Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in November of 2013 and Ivan Ramen in May of 2014.
The appeal of ramen for Ivan is that it is truly a cuisine with no rules. A relatively new food in Japan, ramen has the luxury of not being confined within strict and rigid guidelines. It is, as Ivan describes, a “maverick cuisine’ with as many variations as are imaginable. This “lawless” style of cooking has allowed Ivan to seamlessly blend his deep understanding of Japanese culture with his European culinary training and his NY sensibility to create a cuisine all his own. It manages to be both familiar to those who grew up with ramen, and also to the people who are just discovering ramen.
In the 2014 New York Times glowing two-star restaurant review of Ivan Ramen, his status was cemented as a true chef and not simply a ramen master. The way in which Ivan seamlessly and gracefully merges his love of Japan with his knowledge of Western cuisine and techniques is perfectly showcased at this restaurant, which is much more than a ramen shop, and continues to be named one of the best new restaurants of 2014. As the US undergoes its very own awakening to the complexities and joys of Japanese food, Ivan’s cuisine marks itself as truly unique yet remains incredibly accessible and understandable
His acclaimed cookbook, Ivan Ramen Love, Obsession and Recipes from Toyko’s Most Unlikely Noodle Shop has recently celebrated it’s first anniversary in print.