When Nate Barker was about 4 years old, his family would go to eat every Sunday at Seito's in Warren, where he used to love watching the Japanese chefs prepare food tableside.
''I'd come home, put a bucket on my head and pretend to be a teppanyaki cook,'' Barker said.
Now a professional chef, Barker still loves Asian-inspired food, which he cooks at home for his family ... without the bucket.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Andy Gray
Nate Barker, who lives in Warren and is chef at Welshfield Inn in Troy, assembles his roasted pork noodle bowls.
Barker, a Warren native and 2000 John F. Kennedy graduate, has been working in restaurants since he was a teenager, starting out washing dishes and making salads at the Trumbull Country Club, and food always was a big part of his family.
''This time of year, I think about the holidays, and our house was always the gathering place,'' he said. ''There's a communalness with food. Food always brings that out in my mind.''
Since graduating from the Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh, he has worked at the Horseshoe Bar in Warren, The Chophouse in Howland, O'Donold's in Austintown, the Springfield Restaurant Group in Mercer, Pa., and helped his uncle set up the Top Notch Diner in Cortland
10 quarts water
45 ounces of pork broth (use 40 ounces of beef broth and 5 ounces of soy sauce or try the recipe below)
1 pound udon or ramen noodles
2 pounds of slow-roasted pork shoulder (save braising liquid if making the pork ramen broth)
5 hard-boiled eggs, whites only, sliced
5 tablespoons fresh minced ginger
2 jalapenos, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled into ribbons
1 pound seasonal vegetables, such as turnips
1 cup sliced scallions
Chili paste / Sriracha to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees and warm pork shoulder if prepared in advance.
In a 12-quart pot, bring water to a boil and cook noodles according to package instructions. Divide into five bowls.
Fill pot with broth and bring to a boil.
Divide the fork-tender pork among the five bowls.
Divide the vegetables among the bowls.
Top with the broth and serve with chili paste / Sriracha.
Pork ramen broth
Makes 10 quarts
2 quarts pork braising liquid (from slow-roasted pork shoulder)
1 quart soy sauce
1 pound fresh ginger, sliced thin
3 ounces dried mushrooms
1 tablespoon star anise
4 ounces green onion
12 ounces of carrots, rough chop
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons Szechuan pepper
6 quarts water
3 ounces of garlic, whole cloves peeled
6 ounces rice vinegar
Add all of the ingredients to a large stock pot except for the rice vinegar.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for 2 hours.
Strain through a chinois and add the vinegar.
For the last year, he's been chef at Welshfield Inn in Troy, where he has elevated its ''gracious country dining'' menu of traditional favorites and added such events as monthly wine dinners. And he may even sneak one of those Asian-inspired dishes on the menu as a weekend special.
He will get a chance to put more of a personal stamp on the menu with some changes planned after the first of the year.
''I make a great shrimp and grits with bacon from the Amish farms,'' he said. ''That'll be on the new menu.''
Welshfield Inn is part of the SKHM group, which also owns such Cleveland area restaurants as Hodge's, Washington Place Bistro & Inn and 87 West at Crocker Park. Being part of that group has given Barker several memorable opportunities, including cooking alongside such famous chefs as Michael Symon and April Bloomfield at the West Side Market Centennial Gala in November.
Cooking to satisfy foodies may be challenging; making food that satisfies a chef's palate as well as a toddler's is just as challenging. Two of Barker's regular customers are his daughter, Marley, 3, and son, Everett, 2. Barker and his wife, Carissa, said the Asian-style noodle bowls are a hit with both the adults and the children in the family.
''They love noodles,'' he said. ''It doesn't matter what I put on them, they will eat them.''
Marley and Everett had forks and spoons instead of chopsticks, but both devoured their kid-sized portions of their father's roasted pork noodle bowls.
Barker makes his pork broth from scratch, starting with the basting juice from the slow-roasted pork shoulder (cooked in a 250-degree oven for at least 8 hours in a covered pan filled with water about half-way up the side of the shoulder) that provides the meat for the dish. It also includes some ingredients the average home cook might not have readily available, so he also suggests a short cut by mixing soy sauce with beef broth.
Barker's broth is more labor intensive, but it adds a real depth of flavor to the final dish, and the noodle bowls allow cooks to adapt the dish to their personal tastes, swapping in favorite vegetables or picking ingredients that in season at that moment.
It's the kind of food Barker might serve if he ever opens up his own restaurant.
''Doing something like this on the campus of YSU would do really well, I think,'' Barker said. ''Serving noodle bowls and some local beers like Rust Belt. College kids could eat the real ramen.''