Kikkoman
Kikkoman

How One Chef is Uniting Innovation and Labor Savings

An exciting new Wafu concept relies on certain products for quality and inspiration.

Chef and restaurateur Robbie Felice is in the midst of converting a wildly successful popup concept into a brick-and-mortar location in Montclair, New Jersey. The concept, pastaRAMEN, is a wholly unique fusion between “Wafu”—which roughly translates to “Japanese Style”—and Italian cuisine.

And yet, as unique as it may be in the culinary sense, pastaRAMEN has run into many of the same challenges operators are facing across the industry. As the chef and partner at two Italian restaurants in New Jersey—Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo—Felice has grown accustomed to these challenges over the past couple of years: rising food costs, a shaky supply chain, and, most of all, expensive and scarce labor frequently leaving kitchens short staffed.

“It’s really never been harder to run a restaurant business,” Felice says. “But it might be even harder to be a chef right now because of the skyrocketing costs and labor issues—it’s seriously insane when you start adding up all of the hurdles we’re having thrown our way.”

Despite these complications, there are areas where Felice says he will never compromise or sacrifice. He always wants to stay innovative and use quality products and ingredients. After all, if menu costs are rising, it is even more imperative that chefs create a memorable dining experience.

That means that if Felice is going to opt for labor-saving products, they have to taste as good or better than something he or a team member could make in-house. The labor-saving solutions must also open up a world of innovation. For these reasons, Felice keeps finding himself turning to the products of Kikkoman, a brand he has identified as the standard when it comes to products like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, katsu sauce, sesame oil, or even panko breadcrumbs.

“I’m definitely one of those chefs who traditionally has tried to make everything from scratch,” Felice says. “But Kikkoman puts out these products that have such a high-quality flavor. I love using their products as a base of inspiration.”

Using Kikkoman’s ingredients, Felice recently put together a recipe to be featured on the Kikkoman website: Wafu Italian Style Ginger Soy Pork Ragu with Sesame Ricotta Cavatelli. The recipe incorporates Kikkoman Soy Sauce, Kikkoman Kotteri Mirin, and Kikkoman Sesame Oil, and is a typical chef-driven menu item that one would find on the menu at pastaRAMEN.

“Kikkoman has such a big name in the industry, because you know what you’re getting from them is going to be quality,” Felice says. “When I’m going through and tasting other competing products, I don’t know what I’m getting my hands on. I have to taste it, test it, try it—but when I get something with that Kikkoman name or label, I know it’s going to be a quality product that works with my recipe.”

For more Kikkoman inspiration, visit kikkomanusa.com/foodservice.