Chicago diners may not know Sarah Becan’s name, but they should be familiar with her work. The illustrator is a favorite collaborator with Fat Rice, having provided bottle and beer can art for the Logan Square restaurant. Becan also illustrated The Adventures of Fat Rice cookbook which was released in 2016. The local artist is back at it with a new book, reunited with writer Hugh Amano for Let’s Make Ramen.
This is a comic book-style guide for the home cook, showing them — panel by panel — how to cook their own bowls of ramen. Amano also worked on the Fat Rice book, as he was familiar with Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo’s restaurant. He worked there for three months before it opened and three months following that debut in 2012.
The book contains basic recipes and more complicated techniques. Like many ramen lovers, Amano swears by the consistent quality of Sun Noodle products. But if readers want to try their hand at making noodles, there’s a recipe for that, too. Amano is an advocate of Harold McGee’s method of baking baking soda.
Many ramen fans are passionate, including Ramen_Lord (local Internet celebrity chef Michael Satinover). Amano is friends with Satinover and knows there are a lot of approaches to ramen. But he wanted to keep his recipes simple. Most ingredients could be found in local markets, though Amazon will ship anything these days.
Amano is a personal chef. He’s spent time in Japan; his father’s family is from Kyoto. Overseas, he gorged himself on ramen for research. He met a chef that’s been making ramen for 40 years. Americans won’t know his name, but Amano learned much from him. The book is a reflection of that, not capitalizing on any trends. It’s about spreading the “ramen gospel.” That’s a phrase he’s used with New York chef Ivan Orkin (Ivan Ramen).
“It’s not about the next big thing,” Amano said.
The book’s publisher, Ten Speed Press, is a big fan of Becan’s art. Comic books still have a bit of a childish stigma to them, but Becan said she wouldn’t be surprised to see an entire line of comic book cookbooks in the future. Becan’s art style isn’t photo realistic. It’s more whimsical. Amano said that gives the book an advantage. Instead of using styled photos of perfect restaurant ramen, Becan’s charming drawings leave room for imagination. That can be encouraging for home cooks who don’t make the prettiest bowls or plates. Becan is among a group of cookbook comic book illustrators like Lucy Knisley (Relish: My Life in the Kitchen) and Robin Ha (Cook Korean!).
“I do think you’re going to see a lot more of it coming,” Becan said. “And I absolutely applaud it. I’m super-biased, but I think comics are an ideal forum for recipes.”
The two will be back in front of the public for the Chicago Tribune’s Food Bowl, the paper’s food festival that gets underway on August 14. The Let’s Make Ramen event is on August 23 and fans can get tickets at the link.