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Chef Spotlight
Executive Chef, Tochi Ramen

Photos by Matt Haas

March 2015

When the Anaba Tea Room closed last year and Tochi Ramen opened in its place, Chef Gregg DesRosier knew that it might take a while for regular customers to accept the change. But accept it, they did ó and in droves ó as Tochi has served 50,000 bowls of ramen in its first year. DesRosier sat down with M Magazine to discuss the changes, his travels to Asia and his love of Japanese mayo.

Tell us a bit about your culinary background.

"I did an apprenticeship under Sandy DíAmatoís sous chef from John Byronís, Bonnie Stutebeck. She and Sandy had basically run John Byronís (before he went to open Sanford), and she ended up in West Bend. Back then, you could apprentice to become a chef so thatís what I did."

How did you end up at Anaba?

"I had opened up a cajun place in West Bend with a friend of mine, but he ended up severely injured in a car accident. I wanted to go the farthest away from what I knew, and I didnít know anything about tea or tearooms. I met the owner of Anaba and seven other chefs, and I cooked for her what we thought a tearoom should have. I did an Asian pear chicken salad and a cucumber sandwich.

I always thought a tearoom should have an Asian bent. When we started, we had only six teas. At one point, we were up to 90-odd teas, and now weíre down to 75 teas."

Tell me about Tochi.

"It took close to two years to develop the concept form from Anaba to the first, full-time ramen restaurant in Milwaukee. We wanted it to be accessible to people who donít know what ramen is and be true to what people who do know what ramen is. But we also wanted to put our personality in so we have some pretty classic broths, but then we have bacon apple chorizo ramen. We want to be able to chef it up a little bit.

"Itís been incredible. We are doing three times the business we did when it was Anaba. We go through probably 600 pounds of pork a week, and the most gratifying experience has been with people who have traveled to Japan and say they enjoy it and that they are surprised that it is an American who is making it.

"I donít want this restaurant to be the only ramen restaurant. Within the next year or so, Iím going to transition to being more of a restaurateur than a chef. There are some really good chefs I work with, and I want to have more restaurants and place them at the helm. I would love to facilitate for them to get their own restaurants."

You travel a lot for research. Tell me about your travels.

"When it was Anaba, I traveled to Vietnam and China, and what that did is reframe cooking for me. I was really attracted to the simplicity and the balance of cooking in Asia. One thing I remember is eating at this farmhouse, and this guy pulled out a live fish, cleaned and gutted it, and it was on the grill in less than two minutes. It was one of the best fish Iíve ever had.

This year I am planning on flying into Ho Chi Minh City, buying a motorcycle and then driving to Hanoi with a Vietnamese chef who is a friend. Then, once I get to Hanoi, I have to fly out to Japan, and I have to do some ramen there."

What are the staples and tools you have to have in your kitchen?

"I canít live without Kewpie mayo, which is a Japanese mayo, and thereís no mayo like it. I canít do without the incredible muse that is the egg, and I probably couldnít do without smoked pepper. Iíve been smoking peppercorns a lot lately. I cold smoke them in a smoker for about 10 hours, then grind them up. Theyíre nice and smoky.

"I could not live with out tongs, and I think you should be able to do everything with tongs. I can open a can with tongs. I also could not live without a knife. I have a Mundial chefís knife that Iíve had for 25 years. I like my new knives, but I always come back to this one. It was the first knife I bought with my own money, and I bought it from a guy who sold it to me out of the back of his car."


This story ran in the March 2015 issue of: