While so many people are just trying to figure out what to make for dinner tonight, 30-year-old Detroit native Imani Battle has spent a whole week thinking about how to perfect a cucumber salad. The one she made consisted of cucumber, green onion, sesame seeds, and cantaloupe, but the dressing was too overpowering and she was disappointed. Battle was visiting Nick George, founder of Dr. Sushi, at their commissary kitchen at 2547 Bagley, next to Honeybee Market. The meet up morphed into a brief history of ramen, plus a demonstration on how to make cold noodle dishes, a conversation that she says opened her mind to a new way of thinking about food. “That process was so amazing,” Battle says.
After years of working front-of-house gigs in the local food and hospitality industry at places like Candy Bar, Lady of the House, Shinola, and Takoi, Battle has made the kind of life where she’s invited to local kitchens, not as a patron, but as the freshest self-taught chef on the block.
She runs a one-woman food pop-up showcasing her ramen expertise with flourishes of her third-generation Jamaican heritage under the name Nourish Ramen — a platform through which she’s served up her sought-after ramen and partnered with Detroit area favorites like Dr. Sushi and East Eats. Visit Battle on her private Twitter or Instagram accounts and you’ll find subtle, yet consistent reminders that she is taking ramen orders on Wednesdays, shared and retweeted by her captive audience that she established back in her personal blogging days. She fulfills up to 40 orders a week for pickup on a regular basis and has graduated from making social posts to accepting online orders.
Battle launched the business from the kitchen inside her Eastside apartment right before COVID and has grown exponentially within the safety parameters of the pandemic. Subsequently, posts of steaming hot, homemade broth cascading onto a healthy helping of noodles, colorful veggies, and your preferred protein line local social feeds each Wednesday, tagging Battle and her food.
Care is what keeps Battle’s customers coming back. Back when she could welcome people into her home kitchen, she’d host a full table of strangers who came to get ramen and left with a couple new friends. When couples came to eat, she would light a candle and create an instant date-night. When Battle was wobbly pregnant with her son Cain Robinson and still cooking, customers and friends came with gifts for the new mom and baby. Battle says nearly two years into motherhood, the experience has made her more careful about dietary restrictions and food sensitivities.
“I would describe myself as somebody that likes to nurture. I like to cook and just feed people. People feeling good about what they ate and people feeling better about what they ate? That is fulfilling,” says Battle.
Battle’s status as an independent chef who makes her own hours and menu allows her to be more agile and responsive than the many full service restaurants. Without the financial responsibility of owning and running a physical location, her take-out business model is perfect for customers who couldn’t gather or dine-in at the onset of the pandemic.
Just a few years ago, she was the host at Candy Bar making homemade meals that she would share with her coworkers over lunch and asking their honest opinion, a quality that she says comes most easily among family and friends.
“I never went to culinary school, so the bar was like my main squeeze. That was my bread and butter,” says Battle.
Even back in high school, Battle was used to customizing instant ramen packets with special flourishes of her own, some shrimp or short rib meat and a little green onion to make it fancy. She prefers simplicity though: a little butter and hot sauce will do. Back in 2019, Battle went from freaking those instant ramen packs to making ramen from scratch for her and her friend Charlotte. As soon as Charlotte took a bite, she told Battle she needed to sell it.
One week later, Battle posted on her Instagram and Twitter so her friends and followers could place an order for her homemade ramen, and Nourish was born. It didn’t occur to Battle that ramen is an unexpected culinary debut from a young Black woman in Detroit, it was simply the first meal she thought of sharing with others in a more expansive way.
That experimental, but also self-assured ethos is what has carried Battle and Nourish to gaining local momentum. She is in full control of what’s added to her menu and what techniques she’ll use to make it. It’s how she’s been able to infuse Nourish’s offerings with traditional staples of her Jamaican background including curry ramen, homemade sorrel, plus a Ginger Brew by Paradise Farms using her friend Oronde Bandele’s recipe. She potentially has an island plate coming next summer, too.
She credits Nygel Fyvie of East Eats, Matt Wang formerly of Candy Bar and Graham Mitchell who she met at Marrow as integral parts of her culinary network. Now, she has her eyes set on back-of-house: She wants to be in the kitchen. She also wants to expand Nourish’s offerings beyond ramen.
“I just want to continue to learn. I want to be able to do this really well. I want to work up under other chefs. I want to learn different techniques without necessarily having to go to school,” says Battle.
Battle has started working as a line cook during the lull of the holiday season and she still offers ramen on Wednesdays. She has made a unique contribution to the local food scene by knowing her craft and taking her sweet time. A bowl of Nourish Ramen signifies that you know someone who knows someone, it means you’re hip to new food happenings in the city, it means you’re hungry, and down to support a fellow independent creative. For Battle, it means she’s ready for what’s next.