Ryan Roadhouse, chef owner of Portland’s Nodoguro restaurant was recently named Rising Star Chef by Portland Monthly Magazine.
How did you first get interested in food?
I have always loved eating good food. I was born to very young parents, which allowed me to spend ample time with my food obsessed grandfather. His days seemed centered around making sure dinner was a memorable event. One of my first elementary writing assignments turned into an explanation of the perfect ham and cheese sandwich.
How did you first get involved in Japanese Cooking?
As a teenager. I loved the idea of working in a restaurant. The first restaurant I worked in was a Japanese restaurant. My first day as dishwasher/busboy ended with one of the kitchen guys pouring me a beer, eating Japanese curry for staff meal, and a server handing me 20 bucks. I was pretty impressed.
What was your experience like living and working in Japan?
Sleepless and amazing. The experience began so completely foreign, but quickly became comfortable and familiar. I am still inspired everyday by the experience of being in Japan. The culture, the food, and the people have changed me forever.
How did Nodoguro come about?
It came about out of necessity. I had a particular vision for the type of food and experience I wanted to share with people, but making it a reality was difficult. Most conversations with investors led to the instantaneous compromise of my concept. It became clear that in order to avoid stagnation and continue to grow as a person and a chef I would need to go at it alone. It began with making a seed plan with a local farmer and made Nodoguro a reality as a pop-up restaurant.
What were the greatest benefits and disadvantages to the pop up format?
The advantage of popping up is that you can take risks and test an otherwise untested idea with minimal risk. The downside is that it’s a pain in the ass! Cold storage problems, commissary kitchens, sourcing issues, having no designated space. Unpacking your “restaurant” on the day of service, packing it back up after service, and probably many other disadvantages that I have forgotten already.
How would you describe the food you’re creating at Nodoguro?
Kind of like Kappo cuisine with no rules and lots of surprises
How do you approach dish development and choosing the themes for your menus?
Themes are now crowd sourced (for the most part). I find that it keeps me honest and makes creativity a necessary component of my daily life. I always have a general format in mind for each menu. Everything else is detail shaped by limitations.
Although your cuisine is rooted in Japanese techniques and ingredients, it seems uniquely Portland. Can you tell us about some of the more exciting ingredients you’re working with right now?
Right now the farm is in a stage of seasonal rebirth. Lots of the Japanese herbs are naturalized now and begin to reassert themselves. We have a variety of plants that are being utilized in in the flowering or seed pod stages. We have naturalized benitade, shimonita negi buds, tender nira, karaine seed pods and flowers, komatsuna raab, fresh calendula, Japanese frill mustard flowers, wild currant flowers with things like local salmon, sablefish, and super tender beef tongue.
Essential kitchen tools?
Being a pop up chef has made me a lot better and more resourceful. A sharp knife is the only thing I can’t do without.