“The idea is to have all courses in one meal,” Mark Henry, executive chef and owner of Rooster’s House of Ramen said as I gazed into a steaming bowl of soup. He was right; my ramen had it all. The crunchy white bean sprouts, colorful Kim Chi, and freshly chopped herbs floating at the surface of the broth all allowed for a light vegetable course. The Kimchi add a rich spice to the soup while the bean sprouts and herbs created a smooth balance and varied texture.
Resting at the edge of the vegetable decoration a white egg, boiled to the perfect second so that the softest touch with chopsticks opens the seal allowing a thick yellow yolk to slowly seep into the soup. The egg contributes sufficient protein to the dish, while the melting yolk enhances the broth, making it into a kind of aioli.
Finally, I sank my chopsticks into the soup and found the curly, braid-like noodles sitting beneath the rest, and here I found my starch course. Henry continued to speak about the nature of ramen: a meal that’s goal is simply to satisfy and sustain. It manages to supply all the necessary nutrition while exceeding satisfaction, for just $11.
However, not only does the ramen itself have all the elements of a great meal, but the restaurant does as well. Rooster Ramen has both indoor and outdoor seating options. The outdoor is made up of a few tables positioned in front, with bright red chairs that match the paint on the external walls of the restaurant. The inside allows for a unique feel compared to other restaurants in the Springs. The warm blue walls, graffiti-like art, and red tables glow under the dim lighting, allowing for a more sophisticated feel, while the blue paint responds to the brightly lit Blue Moon sign on the far wall.
Meanwhile, the tune “Fly Like an Eagle” (along with other R&B rhythms) enhanced the casual yet professional vibe of the restaurant. Within moments of sitting down, I was approached by a server who introduced himself as Bryan. Throughout the course of the meal, Bryan continued to check in frequently, offering information about the history of ramen, as well as the history of the chef, and a brief story of the restaurant itself. At Rooster’s Ramen, not only do they pickle everything in house, but they also prepare all the meat themselves: “The only thing we don’t do is gut.”
Bryan began working at Rooster’s Ramen about a month ago, re-entering the food and beverage industry, “[I] missed working with passionate chefs, people that are passionate about food,” he said. Not only does the Rooster’s Ramen community feel passionate about what they do, they also feel like a family, already tight-knit within just three months.
For Henry, cooking didn’t become a priority until later in life. Though, Henry himself is a sort of ramen dish – his life a serving with an element of everything. Henry served almost eight years in the army before he unexpectedly retired for medical reasons. While he was serving, he met his wife (who was also serving) and they had children.
Henry had a difficult time upon retirement; he urgently needed to secure a means of caring for and supporting his family financially. His mother was a cook in the navy. “We cooked together a lot,” he said, so he figured that could be a solid starting point.
Henry went on to win both Chopped and Cooks vs. Cons, two extremely popular and successful cooking shows. In fact, his appetizer dish on the show Chopped was ramen that he made from kelp noodles, venison, huckleberry jam, and fennel flower.
Alongside his full time job as both chef and owner of Rooster’s Ramen, Henry is also the coach of the Rocky Mountain Roller Derby team that his wife is currently a member of, nicknamed “Rooster,” which is where Henry found inspiration for the restaurant name.
“She’s a little firecracker,” he said. Henry calls his 15 year-long marriage to “Rooster” his greatest accomplishment. I asked Henry what he loves so much about ramen, to which he responded, “There’s no rules, I don’t follow rules very well.” By starting his own restaurant, Henry now makes the rules. “The goal is to keep prices low enough so that people can come back twice a week, instead of only twice a year,” he said, while also concentrating on selling high quality food.
Henry also drew attention to the community: “It’s important to give back,” he said. He talked about the food business itself, and the way he loves satisfying people – how simple it is, how they come in, you serve them, they’re satisfied, and then they leave. He says he sleeps well at night just knowing he has done something for the Colorado Springs community.
As I sat in the dim blue space, the complete combination of warm spiced broth, smooth noodles, soft egg, and fresh vegetables in front of me began to perfectly mimic the fullness and quality of the comfortable space, close community, familiar service, and ambrosial food of Rooster’s Ramen.