It's a steam bath by the kitchen at the Luckyrice SlurpFest, a multicourse dinner in New York City prepared by four ramen masters. Five burners boil water; servers scoot around one another, sweating as they stack fancy three-star-restaurant bowls with wide, flat rims, meant for exotic garnishes or creating dramatic white space. Ivan Orkin hates them.
There's an intense quiet, a tension. Orkin, one of the true pioneers of ramen, is serving his course. He stands awkwardly, forced to work at an ad hoc plating station, raising tongfuls of dangling noodles like a street fighter delivering a flying uppercut in a video game. He coils the glistening strands into the bowls, tops them with bean sprouts, scallions, slices of pork. His jaw is set firm, like a sergeant about to call drills.
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For noodleheads, Orkin's reputation precedes him. He is a brilliant anomaly—a guy from Long Island, New York, who in 2007 opened a shop in Tokyo called Ivan Ramen that was so admired, he became a star; an instant-ramen company even modeled a flavor after his soup. Last year, a guest appearance at Manhattan's Momofuku Noodle Bar drew a 100-person line and sold out in 90 minutes. Until he opens two Ivan Ramens in NYC this year, chances to eat his food are few and far between, so his SlurpFest noodles hit the bowls with a special gravity.