“It could really only happen in Nashville,” said Gavigan, who has launched a series of ramen dinners under the name Otaku South.
Over the summer, Gavigan, who was already pretty busy with her day job, placing songs in TV ads, along with being a mom, found herself compelled to try to re-create the halcyon bowls of ramen she used to slurp and savor in Los Angeles. “It’s comfort food,” she said.
Before long, the zealous ramen cook was buying fresh local soup bones from Porter Road Butcher — up to 100 pounds at a time — and cooking her broth in bubbling pots for 48 hours.
She took equal care in the ingredients she collected and combined for her soup bowls — one of her specialties is miso ramen with fresh sweet corn grown by local farmers.
Word of her amazing noodle bowls started to spread, attracting the attention of Erik Anderson, co-chef (with Josh Habiger) at The Catbird Seat.
“I went over there and tried it,” Anderson said. “It was awesome.” And he didn’t keep the news to himself. “After lunch I tweeted a picture and said it was great ramen.”
Soon thereafter, half the Nashville foodie community was demanding to try it for themselves, and Gavigan was able to set up her first pop-up ramen dinner as Otaku South. The sold-out event took place to great acclaim at 12 South Taproom on Sept. 30, and she’s plotting an ongoing series of ramen nights in various spots.
She said Nashville’s supportive nature and the access to so many local farms and artisan purveyors like Porter Road are the reason her project came together so easily.
And soon Gavigan and her mentor Anderson will be cooking side by side, with a special one-night Otaku South event at The Catbird Seat Oct. 22. Dinner will include ramen and other treats from Japan’s izakaya culture: yakitori skewers and robatayaki, veggies and seafood cooked over a wood-fired grill. The event quickly sold out — at $75 for the multicourse feast.
Future events will probably have more modest price tags. Gavigan will serve a walk-up ramen meal at location to be determined Oct. 28. On Nov. 11, she’ll do a dinner at Burger Up.
A version of this story appeared in the Food Biz column in today's print edition of The City Paper and online in the Nashville Post.