Takashi Yagihashi grew up in Mito, Japan, about 45 minutes outside of Tokyo, playing baseball, watching American movies, reading popular novels and immersing himself in his schoolwork. He imagined the Hollywood-built wonders of American life in his future, although none of these dreams included a kitchen.

However, with high school came the pressure of earning some pocket money, and so Takashi took the dirty jobs of dishwasher and kitchen helper at a local restaurant.

“I never wanted to be a chef when I was a kid, but I realized once I started doing things in a kitchen, I was pretty good at it,” Takashi said.

After receiving a degree in interior design from the Tokyo Design School, he was offered a job to work in Chicago with his former employer. Working his way up through the kitchen hierarchy, Takashi opened his own first Chicago restaurant, Tribute, in 1993, followed by Takashi in 2007 and Slurping Turtle in 2011. Slurping Turtle proved to be an instant success, and in April 2014 Takashi opened a second branch in Ann Arbor, on East Liberty.

Slurping Turtle is inspired by Japanese street-food and home cooking, providing a unique and varied menu, pleasing to any patron’s taste buds.

“I loved ramen, I loved noodles. So that’s one of the reasons we opened Slurping Turtle. When I was young, I ate noodles every day. One day ramen, one day udon, one day soba,” he said.

“It’s authentic Japanese, but with a contemporary, modern twist. It has a unique spice. It’s a different take on usual Japanese food and traditional noodles,” Takashi said of Slurping Turtle’s menu.

Indeed, the range of dishes on the menu is impressive: A selection of ramen meals for lunch, ceviche with octopus, scallops, shrimp, squid and yuzu dressing or yellowtail tacos with truffle soy and taro root shell as tapas. A list of sushi rolls is available, listed above the sides, which include Kani cream croquettes. For dessert, try a raspberry wasabi macaron or a slice of cheesecake.

The restaurant’s menu will change with every season. Each of Takashi’s establishments has a different executive chef who oversees these changes, working closely with Takashi as well.

“We try to use fresh ingredients, which is especially easy in the summer, when there are lots of local markets. As winter comes, a lot of things are coming from California across the country, but we do the best we can,” Takashi says of ensuring the quality of ingredients.

Fresh noodles are rolled and made daily in the basement of Slurping Turtle, where the action happens. When I asked about his career highlights, or proudest moments, Takashi had too many to name. What started as an afterschool job has proved to be as smooth sailing and marvelous as the Hollywood stories the future chef was once so intrigued by.

In 2003, he received the “Best Chef in the Midwest” award from the James Beard Foundation. In fact, just two hours before our interview, Takashi received his fifth Michelin star, a coveted award given by the French company, Michelin, for more than one hundred years.

“I know that college students have a lot of study to do and not much time, you need cooking to be easy. But when you have a day off, instead of going for fast food, find a local market. Get some fresh ingredients and make a simple salad,” Takashi says to college students struggling with the challenge of eating well.

“It has been amazing,” Takashi says of his career, walking up the stairs of his Chicago Slurping Turtle in order to better hear me on our telephone call.

His love and dedication to his work, which he treats as an art, shines through in his words, and evidently, in his food.

This is a man you can count on to take the extra step: “If you stop by the restaurant, please be sure to give me a call on this number and I’ll make sure to give you something extra. We’d love to have you.”

Chances are, they would love to have you too.

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