If you think ramen has to be a hard square that you soften in the microwave, Brian Webb is here to change your mind. The Bay Area native grew up eating Asian dishes, and he's passionate about his ramen bowls. Webb started a month ago as a chef at Hot Noodles Cold Sake, the new noodle shop in North Scottsdale, but if you recognize his name it's likely from a different venture.
Webb made a splash in 2013 when he opened Hey Joe!, a food truck serving Filipino cuisine, which he ran with his wife, Margita. The award-winning truck didn't go on forever, so when his friend and colleague Joshua Hebert offered him a job at the new Hot Noodles, the 39-year-old chef jumped aboard. (Hebert has won national acclaim for Posh, his "improvisational restaurant" in Scottsdale.) We stopped by the cozy eatery to chat with Webb about his delicious, intercontinental obsession.
How did you get into ramen?
My love has always been Asian food. It has a flavor profile that I really like. It's always grabbed my interest. You have a combination of salty, sweet, sour, the umami flavoring that really incorporates everything. I grew up outside of San Francisco, so I really grew up with a lot of Asian friends, a lot of people from a lot of different cultures. I grew up eating Indian food, Iranian food, Japanese food. Even today, in my house, we really don't eat a lot of American food. I eat rice every day. I think my son has had two sandwiches in his entire life.
How was the experience of running a food truck?
It was wonderful. We did it for four years. It really allowed me to explore, to be creative, to challenge myself. A food truck is really a micro-business. I had to work from the second I woke up to the second I went to bed. In the truck we served a pork belly called lechon kawali that everybody really loved. It didn't sell the most, but it was everybody's favorite dish. People really got attached to it.
How did you start at Hot Noodles?
I've really been a fan of Josh in general. When I was dating my wife, before she was my fiancée, I wined and dined her at Posh. He did a smoked wild boar pork belly at Posh. I've had a lot of pork belly, and I always thought mine was the best, but the pork belly they had at Posh definitely topped mine. He started doing ramen night at Posh about six years ago. Started out once a month. He used to close at 10 and then do ramen from 10 to midnight, and that turned into once a week. I've been a fan of his ramen for a long time, so be able to work for Josh is a huge honor. It's like that Hair Club for Men commercial: "I'm not just the GM, I'm also a customer."
It's become kind of a food writer cliché that you can do more with ramen than anyone imagines. But what is your specific approach to noodles?
We're trying to be like a Japanese-style ramen shop, and we're really focused on the ramen. We have five dishes. In Japan, there's all different kind of restaurants, but they have some really focused ramen places, a small shop. We have a limited amount of equipment in the kitchen, and also Josh's passion is really with the ramen. My first day here, they were like, "Do you know the menu?" I was like, "Yup." There was nothing that needed to be changed with the ingredients. It's just a matter of executing it.
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Have you been to Asia?
I've been to the Philippines, for two months total. I met my wife here, and we flew over for a wedding, and we spent a month there. At the time, I didn't know about Filipino food. I knew I loved Japanese food, but I wasn't expecting it to be such a culinary expedition. I gained about 25 pounds while I was over there, and it doesn't help that the San Miguel beer is 25 cents a bottle. A year later, I went over there for another month to research the food and learn the recipes and cooking techniques.
What do you think this restaurant has brought to North Scottsdale?
Similar to the food truck, we get a lot of people who come in who aren't exactly familiar with ramen. But Scottsdale is more diverse than a lot of people think. There's a large Asian community here, and sometimes they're underserved a little bit, because there's no ramen place in Scottsdale, no place that's dedicated to ramen. The closest one to us is probably 25 miles away. That's what we're trying to do, is serve the existing culture and introduce the culture to other people.
A lot of famous foods from East Asia, like pho and kimchi, take a long time to prepare. Do you find that patience is a theme in your cooking?
Oh, yeah. Even here, our broth takes at least 48 hours. We simmer the bones at a real low temperature. We try to do really quick service, like a ramen place should, but before that couple of minutes there's at least two days of work put into just the broth. We marinate our pork belly for at least 48 hours, and then we roast it for six hours, so you're looking at a three-day process for the pork belly. We make everything from scratch here. There's a lot of work, a lot of love that goes into everything. That's something you really taste in the food.