Jared Lupin of Umami: "I Try to Have That Visionary Brain, But With Food"

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Jared Lupin Chef/owner Umami www.umamitempe.com

It might be more accurate to call Umami's Jared Lupin a ramen artist rather than a chef. After all, he really is one -- a former graffiti artist whose work once graced a wall at his restaurant. But he also takes a creative approach to ramen that makes the dish more personal than customers might realize.

"I've given it back to the people," Lupin says of the trendy Japanese dish.

See also: Umami in Tempe Is One of The Hottest Ramen Shops in the Country Right Now, According to Eater

As Umami fans will know, it's been a rough few months for Lupin and the whole restaurant crew. A small fire started by an ice machine shut the restaurant down for about two months. Originally Lupin has estimated they would be back up and running in a matter of days, but the smoke damage and insurance companies made a quick return impossible.

But Lupin didn't let the down town go to waste. He spent the last few months focusing on creating new stocks to add the menu and has already debuted a few new menu items including cold noodles in ramen as well as rice and buckwheat varieties.

Allowing diners to customize their bowl of ramen is what Lupin is all about. He doesn't chase a vision of a specific type of ramen and doesn't bother with questions of authenticity when it comes to the dish.

"Authentic to who?" Lupin asks. "[Ramen] is all about the community style."

That's why the menu at Umami doesn't offer set bowls of ramen, letting customers choose their broth, protein, and toppings instead. And if you don't see what you're looking for on the menu, don't hestitate to ask. Lupin let slip that he's working on several more broths that may constitute a sort of "secret" menu for Umami's true ramen aficionados.

Prior to opening Umami in 2013 Lupin worked at Republic Ramen, also in Tempe, though his connection with Asian cusine doesn't begin there. Follow 9/11 Lupin joined the army's Culinary Arts Program, which landed him in culinary school in Korea. It was there that he fell in love with the artistry of cooking - a passion he knew he wanted to bring back to his hometown.

"I try to have that visionary brain, but with food," Lupin says. "Making it relatable is the key."

Trying to open the public's mind to the idea of gourmet ramen is just the beginning for Lupin. Eventually, he'd like to open muliple locations of Umami, each of which reflects the character of its community through the specific menu items offered. He knows that getting people to understand his food won't happen overnight, but is grateful that the movement is happening elsewhere and on a national scale.

For evidence of the progress, the chef points to Korean-American chef David Chang. Lupin has been a fan since Chang's early days - before he launched Lucky Peach in 2011 - and is grateful Chang's bringing Asian fare to the forefront of the American culinary scene.

"Thank god someone is now in the light that can say things," Lupin says.

One thing you want people to know about Umami: We don't just serve one type of ramen. We have so many different broths, ingredients, toppings, add-ons...you name it! You can eat here 100 times and have a totally different experience.

One thing most people don't know about you: When I trained overseas in the military, I discovered my love for ramen and wanted to bring it to Arizona so folks know what real ramen is.

The three words that best describe your thoughts on ramen: Delicious, healthy, interesting.

What's the story behind your method of making broth: Long hours of cooking and a recipe from an old Japanese ramen chef. His son died and he wanted to pass on his gift to me.

The biggest misconception about ramen is that... It's not just a ten-cent package of dehydrated noodles and meat powder. It's real food that is put together with thoughtful balance from each chef that makes it.

Ramen should always be...HOT!! Unless its in a salad or for dipping.

Ramen should never be...underestimated as a true culinary staple. It takes a significant amount of hours to make the stock plus offering a unique style of toppings -- from pork belly or soft eggs -- made to-order, in-house is labor intensive. Even offering vegan and gluten free options is a bit of a challenge for most traditional ramen shops.

Your favorite style of ramen: Tan tan men. It's a good mix of LA ramen.

Name one mentor in the kitchen and the biggest lesson he/she taught you: A master chef from the school I was in showed me that food is what ties all cultures together, which really has inspired me in a lot of the work that I do. But I also learn every day that I'm in the kitchen -- from team members, friends and others.

One trend you're sick of: The assumption that Arizona doesn't have good food.

One trend you hope takes off in Phoenix: Getting out over the summer and trying new food. Don't let the heat hold you back!

Your biggest inspiration when it comes to food: That's endless! Food is growing and being blended, fused, and molded everyday from different cultures countries and time periods. As food grows, we grow.

What drew you back to Phoenix: I've seen the Valley's growth in this industry in the last 20 years and I wanted to be a part of that.

If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go and what would you eat: South Korea for BBQ and Japan for ramen and fish.

One local chef you admire and why: If I had to just pick one, it would be Kelly Fletcher. He understands a lot of what the valley needs and speaks his mind not just as an individual but as one of the valley's culinary visionaries that I look up to.

Describe your perfect food day: Eating every meal at joints where I can just talk to the chef and let them make whatever they want me to eat.

Your drink of choice and where you like to get it: Whiskey and black tea with a spoonful of coffee on ice. I prefer unsweetened tea and alcohols over anything else.

The hardest thing about being a chef is...Remembering that this industry is the only place where art, business, and necessity have to be balanced. It can be tough but trying to find that balance is what I love about it.

One thing you wish Phoenix had more of: I wish that people in the Valley were a little more adventurous when it comes to food and trust outside of what we have "had" and not "tried"

What's next for Umami? Being local, adventurous, and seasonal with our food and drinks by creating traditional and modern ramen together for the public to try.

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