Ross Shonhan, Bone Daddies, Soho

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th September 2013
Ross Shonhan, chef-patron of Bone Daddies and newly-opened Flesh and Buns, is an Australian chef who moved to the UK early in his career before travelling to the US to head up the opening of the Nobu restaurant in Dallas.  He then came back to the UK having been headhunted as head chef of the highly acclaimed Zuma restaurant in London, before opening Bone Daddies, his own ramen bar offering a laid back and inexpensive but quality Japanese noodle bar experience. Flesh and Buns is his second solo venture introducing the concept of hiratabuns filled with pork, lamb and other fleshy goodness. The Staff Canteen caught up with Ross to find out about his passion for Japanese cuisine, the intricacies of ramen culture and working 21 hours a day…   When did you first get into Japanese cooking? My first restaurant memories were from Chinese restaurants so I was always interested in oriental food.  In Australia, where I grew up, a natural fusion has happened between European and oriental cuisine just because of its geographical position.  Oriental ingredients were in every kitchen I ever worked in, even the fine dining European ones. It’s similar to how modern British cooking has been heavily influenced by French cuisine; Australian cooking has naturally evolved a unique fusion. As the head chef of Nobu in Dallas you trained directly under the legendary Nobu himself; how was that experience? When I started at Nobu I thought I knew a little bit about Japanese food but I soon realised I knew absolutely nothing! It was the first restaurant that he had opened in four or five years so Nobu himself was very interested in how it went and also very cautious because he had hired someone from outside to run his restaurant, so I think he was very keen to be hands on with the teaching. He taught me how to cook every dish himself but at the same time he gave me a very hard time. I’ve never been under pressure like it, but I understood that he was trusting me to run something that was very important to him and he needed to know that I was up to it. Me and my sous chef were working 21 hours a day for the first few months, getting literally two hours sleep a night. We were walking corpses, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! After heading up Zuma in London you opened Bone Daddies, your first solo venture; why did you decide to go for a ramen bar? I think because ramen is almost a world with no rules – the only rule is that it should be delicious. Within Japanese culture there are very precise, very meticulous styles of cooking like with sushi or kaiseki ryori, the traditional Japanese haute cuisine, then on the other end of that you’ve got ramen chefs who are really the punk chefs of Japanese culture. Whereas sushi chefs are  precise and meticulous, you’ll see ramen chefs walking round in wellies with a baseball cap or a bandana on their heads  and  water slopping around all over the place. What I really love about it is that if you take a Soba noodle restaurant or an Udon noodle restaurant in Japan85% of the menu will be the same regardless of the where in the country it is, whereas with ramen, every city has its own style, so it’s endless. There’s no such thing as an ‘authentic’ ramen; everyone in Japan is just doing their own thing and it’s constantly evolving. There’s a whole subculture based around ramen in Japan; there’s cartoons made about ramen; there’s movies about it; there’s TV shows, competitions; there’s even manga comics about ramen – it’s a pretty addictive subject! And I guess like the other ramen chefs, you are taking it in your own direction? Yes and people sometimes talk about us in a very accusing way for doing that but often they’ve been to Japan and had ramen in a train station in Tokyo and think that they know authentic ramen. What they don’t realise is that we boil all our own bones; we boil all our own eggs; we even cook our own bamboo; everything, with the exception of the noodles, is made in house; whereas if you go to a lot of ramen shops in Japan they’re actually using ready-made paste that you just add water to and it’s full of sugar, msg and fake flavourings. We even make our own natural msg by boiling kombu seaweed, bonito flakes and shiitake mushrooms with salt. Now you’re opening Flesh and Buns as well; can you explain the concept behind that? The concept is inspired by Japanese izakayas, featuring hirata buns which originally derive from Taiwan. Taiwan has an amazing food culture simply because it’s been occupied by so many different countries over the years; it’s a real melting pot of Korean, Chinese and Japanese food that’s created a unique food culture. One of the things in Taiwan that’s very popular are guo bao, or buns, which are known as hirata in Japan.  I’ve combined the hirata concept with my idea for a Japanese pub, or izakaya. I’ve had some amazing experiences in Japan in pubs that aren’t formal or expensive, sometimes  literally just sitting on beer crates;  you have great food, great drinks and a great night. The Japanese love getting drunk just as much as we do but they like to have food at the same time so a Japanese pub is always food-driven. Similarly to a Bone Daddies, there will be rock and roll music playing at Flesh and Buns and it will be a very interactive style of dining: the buns will all come out in a steam basket, then there will be the ‘flesh’ fillings including Slow roasted shoulder of lamb with Korean flavours; Whole baby chicken with yuzu koshu; and Robata grilled seabass with coriander miso. The flesh and buns will be served along with lettuce, cucumber, sauces and pickles. You’ll basically be able to go at it and make your own hirata buns, kind of like a meatier, fleshier version of Peking duck. Will you be looking to expand the Bone Daddies and Flesh and Buns concepts throughout the country? I’d like to take the ramen bars beyond Soho. How and when really depends on people and sites. I wouldn’t want to make each one just a copy of the original though. We would want to make each one very unique and individual because that’s more of a challenge and more fun than having just ten of the same restaurant. You’ve helped to introduce ramen, and now  hirata, to the UK; are there any other Japanese concepts you’d like to explore? Oh yes, I’d love to set up our version of a simple chicken barbecue, or yakitori, restaurant, where you start off with some chicken sashimi then you move on to every kind of grilled chicken and you might finish up with some noodles that they make with the boiled chicken bones; you basically spend the whole night eating chicken – sounds amazing! See Ross’s recipe for chicken tantanmen ramen here See Ross’s recipe for fried soft shell crab here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th September 2013

Ross Shonhan, Bone Daddies, Soho