It’s safe to say you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career when people need only one name to recognize you.
Here in Southwest Florida, word association with “chef Koko” brings on images of springy, supple bird nests of ramen and beautifully charred robata meats.
While Pitak “Koko” Hermkhunthod has Thai roots, his fascination with Japanese culture runs deep—so much so that he trained there for many years before first bringing the intricacies of the country’s cuisine to Miami and then to Naples.
As the culinary mastermind behind Zen Asian BBQ when it launched to much fanfare nearly two years ago (it was a shoo-in for our 2017 10 Best New Restaurants list), he gained a strong following. And now after peacefully splitting with his business partner, he’s striking out on his own with a new innovative eatery.
Namba, named after a district of Osaka, is planned to open late fall in the same North Naples plaza that houses Grain de Café and Lulu B’s. It will be Naples’ first izakaya, a kind of gastropub popular in the Land of the Rising Sun that draws comparisons to British pubs and Spanish tapas bars because they are where people flock to relax and unwind after work.
The menu for Namba will focus on ramen, sushi and grilled meats. Chef Koko will still be simmering his Hokkaido-style broth for 17 hours, but this time around, he enlisted renowned chef Tiger Mizuta to teach him his family’s generations-old art of crafting ramen noodles for that extra-special touch. Another highlight is the aburi sushi—a first for Naples. It’s a type of nigiri where the fish is lightly grilled on one side before being laid upon rice, and then chef Koko will add his own flourish, such as truffle butter or tenkasu. For the grill, he’ll be firing it up to prepare meats in the traditional northern Japanese robata style over a fire with special coals. A flair for the dramatic with beautiful presentations and a focus on the highest quality ingredients are both a given. But chef Koko wants Namba to be the kind of place people can shuffle in after work, have a few beers and a few bites—and return another day.
Given his success at Zen, we’ll soon be doing just that.