Hurry hard to Elmwood rink for Curl-O-Ramen

Curling and ramen, together at last.

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Curling and ramen, together at last.

It’s the perfect combination, really: a steaming bowl of brothy noodle soup after a match spent sweeping and throwing granite rocks on a chilly sheet of ice.

Event preview

● Sat., Nov. 26; 5 to 8:30 p.m.
● Elmwood Curling Club, 300 Brazier St.
● $30 for a bowl of ramen and casual curling
To reserve a spot, send a direct message to Atsushi Kawazu or Facebook. Do not call the curling club.

In Winnipeg, the traditional Japanese comfort food has found a new home at the Elmwood Curling Club by way of Ramen Takeuma, a pop-up ramen restaurant founded by Atsushi Kawazu.

In October, Kawazu took over operation of the club’s canteen, where he spends most of his days serving up fast-casual standards — fries, burgers and chicken fingers — to hungry curlers. This Saturday, however, the trained ramen chef has teamed up with the club to host a Curl-O-Ramen event that will pair his signature soup with beginner curling lessons.

“After playing curling in cold air for hours, eating hot, hearty, energy-creating ramen is a perfect match,” Kawazu says.

For Elmwood Curling Club president Christian Trotter, ramen presents an opportunity to introduce the sport to potential new members.

“It’s definitely an aging demographic,” Trotter says of membership at the 112-year-old institution on Brazier Street. “It’s a struggle for all curling clubs in the city… we’ve gotta just start thinking outside the box.”

The partnership is a mutually beneficial one. Elmwood needed a cook and Kawazu needed a kitchen to continue working toward his dream of opening his own ramen shop.

Kawazu was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan and moved to Winnipeg in 2006 to attend university. As an international student, he craved the flavours of home but had a hard time finding satisfactory Japanese cuisine locally. So, he started making it himself and inviting friends over for meals.

When he graduated with a degree in international development studies, Kawazu struggled to find work in the field. It was a stumbling block that set him on a new path full of bubbling vats of bone broth and baskets of tender egg noodles. He realized that cooking for others — and cooking ramen, specifically — was the thing that made him happy.

Kawazu returned to Japan for an intensive ramen workshop. Over several days he learned everything required to open a restaurant— from the bookkeeping to the equipment to the recipes used in successful Japanese ramen shops.

“I didn’t even sleep,” he says. “I would try and make and try and make all day long, I was eating like 10 or 20 ramens every day.”

After the workshop, he spent months doing market research, travelling to hundreds of ramen restaurants across North America to figure out what style of soup would sell well in Winnipeg. There are infinite regional variations of the dish in Japan; toppings, flavours and noodles that shift from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and shop to shop.

Kawazu settled on a paitan-style ramen, which has a milky broth thanks to a long, hard boil that emulsifies the fat from pork and chicken bones. Kelp and bonito flakes are added and the mixture cooks for 10 to 12 hours. It takes a full week to prepare all the components of the ramen. Toppings include egg noodles, a swirl of chasiu (braised pork belly), mushrooms and a jammy boiled egg that’s been marinated in sweet soy sauce.

Kawazu started hosting pop-ups in local restaurants in 2019 under the moniker Ramen Takeuma — the latter translates to “bamboo horse,” which is a reference to the characters used to spell his first name in Japanese. He has gained a dedicated following during residencies at the former Café Ce Soir, Chaise Café and Lounge, Fort and Little Goat restaurants.

“I have lots of regulars,” says Kawazu, who promotes his pop-ups on Instagram and Facebook. “Some of them are insane, asking me every week, ‘Atsushi, where is your shop? When are you open? Can you come to my place, I’ll pay you?’ I get loads and loads of inquiries.”

As overwhelming as his inbox can be, he’s deeply grateful for the support, “Winnipeggers are so nice, they always help me out.”

One day, Kawazu will open his own shop. Until then, he’s looking forward to getting to know a new clientele at the Elmwood Curling Club and running future ramen pop-ups out of the canteen kitchen.

Saturday’s Curl-O-Ramen event runs from 5 to 8:30 p.m. with seatings every 15 minutes. For $30, diners will get a bowl of ramen and a chance to try throwing a few curling rocks with basic instructions from club volunteers. Hot sake and Sapporo beer will be available for purchase. Brooms and sliders will be provided by the club and attendees should wear warm, loose-fitting clothing. Reservations for ramen, without the curling, are also available Sunday for $20 per bowl.

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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