Kukai Ramen – Darren Jones Interviews Owner and Chef Michael McCormick
Tony Ray Baker: Okay, so here we are in front of Kukai which is one of my well, not one of my, it’s like my absolute favorite place for ramen. There’s nothing like it, it’s divine. Our special guest today is Michael McCormick, who is the owner of Kukai and he’s here today and you’re going to get to see Marta and Darren interview him which is amazing. And, you’re going to get to know the story of this little red lantern, which is all the locals know about it, and if you’re not a local, now, you’re on the in. So have fun with the interviews.
Darren Jones: Michael, I’ve never had a broth that’s anywhere near what you’re doing here. And I know you have a really interesting story as to what brought you here and got you into making your incredible food. So tell us a little bit about that.
Michael McCormick: All right. Well, I’m from originally Los Angeles, I was in sales doing logistical stuff like getting customers, and decided to move here with my then-girlfriend, my partner’s daughter. He brought me in and taught me how to do Japanese food. That was about 12 years ago. And as I was learning that I picked up more crafts, how to do ramen and the broth. And I came here to the beautiful location and I thought, hey, this would be one of the best spots for a Japanese fusion mix of different things. Our Street Foods, if you will.
Darren: It’s like a giant warm hug. So now, you told us one time, what does it take to make this broth?
Michael: A lot of patience, time, and yeah. So going in early in the morning, get the bones, boil them up, clean them, boil them up again. Then it’s just sitting and adding things to let it keep boiling down till they get to that creamy marrow and everything to go right into the broth.
Darren: Well, it’s worth it to us. Thank you so much. Now, do you have a favorite?
Michael: My favorite? Yeah, actually, the mentai, my Mentai Ramen with the, the spice and then the cod roe. That’s my favorite. So, when I first opened, that was the first thing I did, we did a quick soft opening, and I wasn’t going to do it, but my family came from LA and they’re like, hey, you know what, you need to open the store. But I was afraid to. So they came and they came and helped me make, get everything ready. Opened up and all I did was Ramen broth. I did the ramen which was the Mentai, I was the only ramen I did and it was a hit and from then on I started adding more to it. I feel like I have a little too many but I mean everyone likes different types.
Darren: If somebody isn’t particularly familiar with the type of ramen and the type of food you do, what would you recommend for a starter?
Michael: Well, the one everyone will always recommend the Mount Fuji Dome, which is going to be the sushi bowl. Sushi rice with spicy tuna and all the fixings if you will, it’s got a lot of different flavors. So you got the crunch, you get the sweet, you get the spice and obviously the fish. So it all works out.
Darren: That’s fantastic. So now if you had to invite somebody to Tucson and tell them what’s so great about Tucson, what do you love?
Michael: The people. Actually, coming from LA. everyone is very, I don’t want to say self-absorbed obviously because it’s not the case. But everyone was very, it’s hard to explain, it’s not very easy to just go, “Hey, how you doing?” And some wave back, it was kind of a standoff thing, you know, everyone’s doing their things like, “leave me alone, I’m busy.” Well, I came here, and people are “Hey, how’s your day,” it’s like, oh wow, this is the feeling just nice. Everyone is helpful. Everyone says, “you know what, I do this guy you should go check them out,” everyone’s trying to make sure everyone’s going forward. This was really nice.
Darren: I agree. I agree. So Michael tell us the story about the Red Lantern?
Michael: Yes. So here at Kukai. When I first started, the broth takes a long time, so I didn’t do it every day. So, what I would do is when I started the broth, obviously, it takes 24 hours or whatnot. I would then go outside and put a red lantern the corner, which was originally on the side. But then I then moved it here, so people would see that, “hey, right now, I have my pork broth.” So if anyone wants Ramen, this is the day to get it, which became a big thing. I hear that people like to see this.
Darren: Absolutely, every time you come here, we look for the Red Lantern. Our faces light up when it’s out.
Michael: So I’ve been doing that and nice trying to get a big one, so I can put on the top top, but we’ll see how that goes.
Darren: Well, we’ll look forward to that. So Michael, thank you for joining us today. I recommend anybody stopping by even if you’re not familiar with Japanese food. This is a great jumping-off point. So come to Kukai in the MSA Annex in Tucson Arizona.