The Food Biz: Nashville noodles

The hottest dinner ticket in town is ... ramen

When Sarah Gavigan, a Los Angeles transplant working in the music industry, started her manic project to create the perfect bowl of ramen, she didn’t know it would lead her not just to launching a pop-up restaurant and stirring up buzz on Twitter, but a gig cooking at one of the hottest fine-dining restaurants in America — The Catbird Seat.

“It could really only happen in Nashville,” Gavigan said.

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 under the name 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.

By the time you read this, the event will likely be sold out — at $75 for the multicourse feast. Future events will probably have more modest price tags. Gavigan’s willl serve a walk-up ramen meal at location to be determined Oct. 28. Nov. 11, she’ll do a dinner at Burger Up.

For info, visit, and sign up for emails. Gavigan says that’s the way to get the freshest scoop on events and tickets. And you can follow @OtakuSouth on Twitter.


The food scene was rocked by a big bombshell last week when we learned that the nearly 9-year-old fine-dining spot Tayst will close at the end of the year. Tayst was Nashville’s first green restaurant, and is still one of only two in town (along with Mad Platter.)

Chef Jeremy Barlow, who’s been getting national notice for his cooking and advocacy of sustainable food, said he wants to spend more time with his family (his daughters are 7 and 9), as well as continue to develop his second restaurant — the popular sandwich shop Sloco in 12South — expanding it into as many as four more locations.

A big part of Sloco’s mission is to educate consumers about sustainable eating. Barlow (pictured above) uses local meat and produce, and even lists the number of miles each ingredient traveled.

“I did everything I needed to do with Tayst,” said Barlow, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America who also has a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt. “With your first restaurant, you’re supposed to establish yourself, and I did that.” He said he’s not ruling out returning to high-end cuisine someday.

Barlow heads to New York to cook at the Beard Foundation Leadership Awards on Oct. 17. He and Tayst beverage guru Adrien Matthews are planning a number of special events at Tayst before the big final blast New Year’s Eve.