Sous chefs from six of Houston's hottest restaurants gathered at IKEA for the first ever Great Ramen Challenge Thursday night. Their mission: Demonstrate fun riffs on ramen using a limited set of cookware while spending no more than $3 per portion.
The crowd consisted of 500 attendees and a panel of local food enthusiasts who turned out to sample their efforts and proclaim a winner.
After waiting in line for more than an hour, partygoers began flooding into the space 30 minutes before the foodie fun officially started. Inside, they found snacks from IKEA (ZOMG! Swedish Meatballs) and drinks from ByeJoe, Deep Eddy Vodka and local favorite 8th Wonder Brewery.
The total cost of one serving was calculated at $1.74.
ByeJoe, a clear liquor distilled from sorghum that's popular in China and just making its entrance into the United States market, was served chilled with a lychee. The potent potion proved popular with the crowd.
Although organizers billed the judges as celebrities, the food writer judges in attendance — including Katharine Shilcutt from Houstonia, newly minted Houston Press critic Kaitlin Steinberg and Eater Houston editor Darla Guillen — deferred to the only real celebrity among them: Hell's Kitchen season 11 winner Ja'Nel Witt. She shook every hand, posed for every picture and in every respect looked like the perfect representative for Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill.
Of the dishes, the biggest surprise came from Eatsie Boys sous chef Patrick Hart.
Despite the size of the crowd, lines for food moved quickly so everyone was able to sample each of the six dishes. No one waited longer than 10 minutes for any individual portion.
Of the dishes, the biggest surprise came from Eatsie Boys sous chef Patrick Hart. The 21-year-old nailed the spirit of the challenge by using a package of ramen noodles to create a spicy, flavorful riff on pad Thai. As expected, Kata Robata's Cyrus Caclini and Masahide Wakatsuki served the most traditional dish with a proper salty broth.
As imagined by Jordan Economy, Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar's Scotch egg with a beautiful runny yolk may not have been dorm room cuisine, but that didn't stop guests from lining up for second helpings. Cove's Philippe Gaston incorporated lemongrass tea and pickled beets into his ramen, which gave it a surprising hue and unusual flavor.
The crowd swooned for Uchi chef Michael Castillo's dish that utilized goldfish, earning twice as many votes as its closest competitor to take the People's Choice award. But the judges bestowed the Golden Ramen Trophy to Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento. His creative dish that incorporated kimchi, hot dogs, Spam and American cheese ruled the day.
Everyone had a good time. IKEA donated $6,000 to the Houston Food Bank on behalf of the participants. Let's do it again next year, shall we?
Patrick Hart's Ramen PAT Thai recipe
- One pack chicken Top Ramen
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sambal
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- One egg, scrambled
- Peanuts, chopped
- Bean sprouts
- Wedge of lime
- Cilantro leaves, green onions and cucumber, optional
Add ramen packet to water and boil. Cook noodles for 90 seconds. Place noodles in ice water to stop the cooking process. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a pan over low heat. Stir and set aside. Scramble the egg and set aside.
Heat a pan and add noddles. After 20 seconds, add one large spoonful sauce and stir together until noodles are entirely coated. Remove from heat and place noodles on serving plate. Add garnishes to taste and serve. The recipe makes one serving. The total cost of one serving was calculated at $1.74.