Why she killed it in 2015: It's not every day that ramen god and Sun Noodle R&D chef Shigetoshi "Jack" Nakamura hosts a pop-up in your kitchen, but Japan's legendary chef did just that for Benefield's Southern-inflected izakaya, where she cooks with her husband and co-chef Trey Burnette (also pictured). She's turned her passion for Japanese cuisine, ignited after cooking under Nobu-trained Robbie Wilson of Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, California, into an always-packed, exciting spot for Nashville. It's earned her a nomination for Food & Wine's People's Best New Chef and a second outpost of Two Ten Jack in Chattanooga.
How would you describe your food? "Izakaya; Japanese pub."
What's your signature dish? "Ramen is definitely the top seller, but our play on takoyaki is a favorite, too. We are huge fans of traditional takoyaki, but both being from the South—myself from Nashville, Trey [Burnette, her co-chef and husband] from Atlanta—some of our preparations naturally lent themselves to the influence. We thought a hybrid hush puppy/takoyaki could be delicious. They're so iconic to the South! The hush puppy is made with stone-ground yellow corn meal (as well finely ground corn flour) and lots of good, local whole milk and eggs. We then incorporate the more traditional ingredients of octopus, scallion and katsuobushi, and dip it all in whipped miso butter."
What dish would you cook for the rest of your life? "Ramen has the never-ending learning curve Trey and I thrive off of. There's nothing boring about making it; every day with it is different. There are so many different styles, each one completely unique and with its own set of learning requirements. And you can always make it better, or at least different. We just recently turned a corner with our tonkotsu broth. When something you've been making several times a week for years gives you a breakthrough 'ah-ha' moment, you are literally brought to tears. Ramen broth is a live animal and a wild one at that. We're just happy it shows us a little love from time to time."
Favorite way to cook an egg? "Ajitamago—soft-boiled and marinated [in soy sauce and mirin]. It's how we do our eggs for our ramen."Next Chef