School of ramen: Noodlemakers open learning lab for diners

Ramen, the traditional noodle soup from Japan, has captured the taste buds of millions of Americans, and one small family business is behind many of the ramen shops in the U.S. It's a family dedicated to making noodles and changing the way we eat them, "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Vinita Nair reports.

Fresh noodles covered with hot chicken broth and topped with sliced pork - there is nothing instant about this ramen, except for how fast it gets eaten.

The noodles were made in a 10,000 square-foot factory in New Jersey. It's one of three in Kenshiro Uki's family.

"Out of this factory, we make over 150 different types of noodles," Uki said.

On this line, workers are constantly making adjustments, ensuring the noodles have the right texture, waviness and moisture content.

"The next step and the final step before we start cutting it is we measure how thick it is because each ramen shop has a different thickness," Uki said.

noodle-cut-still.x-ms-bmp
Noodles being cut at the Sun Noodle factory in New Jersey
CBS News

On an average day, Sun Noodle makes 180,000 servings, delivered to thousands of ramen shops nationwide. It is a massive operation compared to the company's humble beginnings in 1981, under Kenshiro's father, Hidehito.

"It didn't really occur to me how amazing his craft was until I really got into high school," Uki said. "Cause he's kind of a magician when it comes to flour and water."

Back then, the Uki family was living in Hawaii. Hidehito's biggest challenge was explaining what Japanese craft ramen was, that it didn't involve dried noodles and flavor packs. His first factory had six employees, and Kenshiro said they helped raise him.

"I was with them every day, and even until this day, we have memories of eating dinner together after work," Uki said. "They're a bit older now, but we still call them in Hawaii, 'auntie and uncle.'"

From Hawaii, Sun Noodle expanded to Los Angeles. In 2011, Kenshiro decided to build his factory. This week he opened Ramen Lab in New York City. It's an intimate, 10-seat counter where diners can learn one on one with renowned Tokyo chef Jack Nakamura.

ramen-bowl-1.png
A Nakamura Ramen creation from the Ramen Lab in NYC
CBS News

"You'll see chef Naka and his assistants cooking in front of you, you'll see the stock pots, you'll see him cutting his negi and ingredients," Uki said. "If you ever had questions, for example, 'why is this noodle paired with this dish' or 'why is this topping on this dish,' you can ask the chef there. You can communicate with him."

"I want to make more history in U.S. in the ramen world," Nakamura said.

The two men said that in the past few years, they've watched ramen go mainstream, popping up in almost every major city. Their hope is that the dish continues to evolve, with local chefs incorporating local ingredients. The lab is proof there's no wrong way to make ramen -- just a right way to eat it.

"If a chef from Texas had created a 'Texas-style' ramen, that it shouldn't be perceived as not ramen," Uki said. "It should be perceived as a Texas-style ramen. That's really what we're trying to aim for."