We spend some time with an expert noodle chef and find out what it takes to become one-star certified. 

Marugame Seimen is a Japanese restaurant chain well known for serving up fresh udon noodle dishes at low prices. So it was a surprise for us to hear that a handful of chefs working at the franchise are actually respected noodle craftsmen with stars under their belt.

Eager to find out more, our noodle-loving reporter Ahiruneko headed out to one of the branches where a noodle craftsmen was in charge. The level of the chef’s skill is different depending on which Marugame Seimen location you visit, and here at the Kanda Ogawamachi branch in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, there’s a one-starred chef at the helm.

▼ Marugame Seimen has their own star rating system for their chefs, and with only four one-starred chefs in all of Tokyo, this visit was an extremely rare treat.

Inside, the area is set up like a food court, with Marugame’s distinctive Japanese-style tiled roof adding some traditional appeal to the proceedings.

For the regular passer-by, this outlet doesn’t appear to be different from any other branch of the famous noodle chain, which has 786 locations in Japan and 204 stores across 12 countries. However, for foodies-in-the-know, this branch is special because of this man behind the counter, cooking up the udon noodles.

He may not be a famous celebrity chef, but in Ahiruneko’s mind he has every right to be, as this noodle-making expert has completed hours of training and gained years of experience in order to become one of the best udon chefs in the country.

▼ Every movement from pot to bowl plays out like a professional dance.

According to reports, the way to identify a Marugame one-starred chef is by their uniform. While most chefs are decked out in an all-white uniform, artisan chefs with a star rating wear blue hats, blue aprons, and a white-and-blue top.

Once the chef had served up Ahiruneko’s order, our reporter took his tray of food back to one of the tables and gave it a good once-over. This bowl of Bukkake Udon—chilled udon noodles, served with a cold soy-based broth–contained glossy noodles, perfectly placed in an enticing heap in the centre of the bowl.

Ahiruneko had tried a lot of noodles from Marugame Seimen over the years, so he was eager to find out if this bowl of udon would taste any different to all the others he’d tried. He gathered up a heap of noodles with his chopsticks and took a giant slurp…

▼ And was blissfully transported to noodle heaven.

Unlike the udon he’d tried at other branches, the udon served here were the perfect texture, retaining a slight chewiness while being supple and moist at the same time. This helped to lift the overall flavour of the dish to a whole other level, and it was clear that there was a certain level of skill required to produce such a good tasting bowl of noodles.

After his meal, Ahiruneko was able to talk to the chef to discuss his cooking techniques and try to glean some industry secrets out of him. The first question Ahiruneko asked was what it takes to become one-star certified with the company, to which the chef answered:

“To be a one-starred chef, you have to pass an examination with the company. I can’t talk about the details, but essentially you have to be able to make delicious udon. In other words, your noodle-making techniques and knowledge are paramount to determining whether you pass or fail.

Getting the right weights and using the right movements are important, but being able to make udon according to the book is essential. I finally became one-star certified in February this year.”

It’s a difficult test that not many are able to pass, and the chef Ahiruneko spoke to had even failed the test three times before passing. Still, once you pass, the certification lets everyone know that you’ve become a professional in the world of udon, due to the amount of knowledge and skills it entails.

▼ Every stage of the udon-making process needs to be mastered, from rolling out the dough after mixing…

▼ To cutting…

▼ Cooking…

▼ Cooling…

▼ And serving.

The chef at this branch of Marugame Seimen cooks up roughly 1,000 bowls of udon every day, and his experience comes through in the perfect balance of flavours in each bowl.

There are currently four one-star chefs working at the following Marugame Seimen locations: Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City Alta (two chefs), Shibuya Metro Plaza (one chef), and Kanda Ogawamachi (one chef).

So next time you’re looking to step into one of the famous noodles chain’s stores for a taste of udon, you might want to make a beeline for one of these three Tokyo branches. You’ll be impressed not only by the taste of the noodles, but the level of skill attained by the chefs there too.

Restaurant information
Marugame Seimen Kanda Ogawamachi branch / 丸亀製麺神田小川町店
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Ogawamachi 3−3−6
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (Mon-Fri, last order 9:30 p.m.) 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (weekends and public holidays, last order 7:30 p.m.)

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[ Read in Japanese ]