uch like music, cuisine is made to push the envelope of tradition. Chefs, like artists, reimagine classic dishes with bolder flavors and daring pairings– like what chef and owner Mike Ransom does with his Japanese-inspired menu at Ima. He takes a classic dish like steamed edamame, which is traditionally cooked soy beans sprinkled with sea salt and paired with soy sauce, and adds lemon, olive oil, and chili flakes for a finger-licking good taste.
“I didn’t want to rehash classic Japanese dishes because to me that’s not doing the cuisine a service and not doing my restaurant a service,” Ransom tells BLAC. “I wanted to create something that when you come you see the influence and you see the foundation, but you know you’ve never tasted anything quite like it.”
Chef Ransom accomplishes his unique flavors by interchanging techniques used in other cuisines like French dishes, to extract as much flavor as he can. Techniques which the 40-year-old chef picked up from 19 years of cooking in culinary capitals like Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, and now Detroit.
Chef Ransom was first introduced to Japanese cuisine in the 70s by his parents. They’d decided to raise him and his three siblings as vegetarians, specifically focusing on ingredients like brown rice, tofu, tempeh, and miso soups.
“If you were vegetarian and didn't look for either asian or indian asian cuisine, then you’re pretty much eating potatoes and vegetables,” says Ransom. “You had to look in the direction of ethnic cuisine to really get a complete diet out of not using meat protein.”
He began learning techniques in the kitchen from his mother, which then enabled him to branch off and begin cooking meals for his siblings after school. His familiarity with the cuisine followed him throughout his profession and because his cooking career wasn’t based on Asian or Japanese food, at home the culinary style served as a creative outlet.
This is where he began experimenting with the curries, custards, and broths offered at Ima. When they opened their doors in December of 2016, customers were taken aback that chef Ransom captured flavors some of the patrons said reminded them of their past trips to Japan or Asia.
“That just goes to show you that if you take away the face behind something and just put the food on the table, it speaks for itself,” says Ransom.
He says although he focuses on Japanese style udon noodle soups, he doesn’t consider himself a traditional Japanese style restaurant.
“A lot of my dishes and techniques are from me learning in these other styles of cuisine and bringing in these elements whether it would be a technique or an ingredient, or a piece of equipment or a philosophy,” says Ransom.
For first timers, chef Ransom recommends the vegetarian boombap or the spicy pork udon for those unsure what to eat first.
Ima Noodles is located in Corktown at 2015 Michigan Ave., Detroit. To view more of Ima’s menu offerings, visit imanoodles.com.