From line cook to ramen chef, talking to chef Jonathan Shin of Sai Sai Noodle Bar

Jonathan Shin dreamt of playing professional golf and even considered getting into art, a dream he’s closing in on as he now practices the art of ramen. At the tender age of 26, Jonathan is currently the Chef de Cuisine of Sai Sai Noodle Bar inside the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, under the guidance of Executive Chef Thomas Ryan. Once a sushi restaurant, Chef Jonathan has created dishes for this fast casual Asian-influenced noodle bar. We sat down with chef Jonathan Shin and chatted about all things hot and soupy.

Jonathan who?

While growing up in Orange County, Jonathan never took a real interest in cooking as he tells us, “I never cooked before I went to culinary school. I started cooking when I was 21.” The culinary arts wasn’t Jonathan’s first career choice, “I actually always wanted to get into art. My family is very artistic, my brother is a toy designer for Disney, my mother graduated from fine arts in Korea, and my father used to draft airplanes for the air force before he became a sushi chef. It just kind of runs in our blood.” However, growing up with a sushi chef for a father, it was written in the stars.

From cook to chef

Before Sai Sai, Jonathan worked as a pastry cook at Nobu Matsuhisa’s Nobu in Los Angeles. Jonathan tells us, “I wanted to go into pastry, they didn’t have one available, but they had a line cook position, so I took that.” Jonathan cooked in the hot kitchen at Nobu for two years before a pastry position opened up where he then worked in pastries for a year. Shortly after, he decided to further his career and applied for the position of chef de cuisine at Sai Sai Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar with the intentions to revamping the entire restaurant and concept. There he met the newly hired Executive Chef Thomas Ryan and as Jonathan tells us, “He[Chef Ryan] liked my resume, so he gave me a chance.”

Chef Jonathan and Thomas designed the menu about five months ago, “It was a really quick turnaround,” Jonathan says. Revamping a restaurant is no walk in the park as Jonathan spends approximately 14 hours a day in the kitchen. “Since we opened, I’ve probably had about four days off.”

A fusion

As chef Jonathan tells us,”My father is a sushi chef, born and raised in Japan, even though I am full Korean”, thus explaining his selection of ramen toppings: from galbi (marinated beef) to kimchi to lobster. “I didn’t want to just focus on one type of Asian cuisine, I try to dip into everything.”

One of the highlights on the Sai Sai Noodle Bar menu is the Lobster Miso Ramen, where Jonathan prepares the broth with dashi – a Japanese soup stock,  lobster, and miso. Another notable dish is the Banh Mi Ramen, a deconstruction of the popular Vietnamese sandwich. “I love everything in those sandwiches, so I took what’s in there, and made it into a ramen,” he says.

When Jonathan is not at the restaurant perfecting his ramen creations, he’s relaxing while playing golf. Now if only he could somehow combine the two.