Daniel Ramirez, exec chef of Gaetano's, on chicken, checks and culinary schools
A friend told him that Pagliacci's, an old-school, iconic Italian restaurant, was looking for a chef, and while Ramirez's first impression of the joint wasn't particularly positive -- "I looked at the exterior and wasn't all that taken with it; there was no traffic anywhere, and there weren't any people around," he recalls -- he was offered a job as a pasta maker, and he took it. Three weeks after starting, he was given the exec-chef position, and for the first time in Pagliacci's fifty-year-plus history, fresh pasta was on the menu.
He left Pagliacci's six years later because he wanted to master of art of baking, and after spending a year and a half making pastries at a local bake house, he returned to Pagliacci's, staying until it shuttered this past August.
Soon after, he and Chris Cina, who was overseeing the kitchen at Gaetano's (he's now the chef for Wynkoop/Breckenridge Holdings), were bantering on Facebook, and Cina mentioned that he was looking for a chef for Gaetano's. Ramirez didn't think twice. "The culture here is like the culture I grew up with. It's like family here, and I can make pasta, I can bake and I can be creative," he says. "I'm so very thankful to be here."
In the following interview, Ramirez dishes out a few words of advice to culinary schools, turns his back on menudo and recounts a humbling experience that blurred the lines between checks and chickens.
How do you describe your food? Original, authentic and Italian-inspired dishes using familiar flavors from the Old Country.
Ten words to describe you: Hard worker, dedicated, loyal, enthusiastic, honest, clean, busy, happy and sentimental.
What are your ingredient obsessions? I've always been really obsessed with saffron because it's such a unique ingredient -- there's nothing else like it. The color is so exotic, and when you combine just a tiny bit of it with other ingredients, you create this exquisite flavor that's unlike any other.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? An Italian kitchen without a pasta machine is like not having knives in any other kitchen. You simply can't run an Italian kitchen without making your own pasta.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: I love local tomatoes, which are the basis for a lot of classic Italian food. I love getting vine-ripened, juicy tomatoes of all kinds from Berry Patch Farms in Brighton.