Round two with Daniel Ramirez, exec chef of Gaetano's
Weirdest customer request: I was once working breakfast at an Italian restaurant in California and had a diner order four eggs sunny-side up, ask if we could stack them and then, in between each stack, add a different protein -- shrimp, grilled chicken, whatever. It sounded so completely bizarre, and then I saw the plate and thought, "Huh, that actually looks pretty good."
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Menudo. I really don't like it, and my sister had a really bad experience with it as a child. She was eating a bite, it got stuck in her throat, and she couldn't breathe. It was incredibly scary for her -- and for me.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Put your passion into your food and cook food that excites you, and you can't go wrong. If you're reading Food & Wine, and a recipe or a photo catches your attention, go cook that. There's nothing worse than food prepared by an unenthusiastic cook. When that happens, you can always taste it.
Craziest night in the kitchen: My last day of work at Canaletto, in Las Vegas, was definitely the craziest night I can remember. I was stressed because I was moving to Denver in two days and the chef had me prepare dinner for a party celebration of 400 people. I had never worked a party that big before, and I was very nervous -- plus I was trying to move. I was really worried there wouldn't be enough food during the event, but after all that stress and worry, it actually turned out to be a great party with wonderful food.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've ever been given? A beautiful brick pizza oven and grill from my wife. It's for my back yard, and I'm still working on installing it.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? I bought a beautiful book called Italy: The Beautiful Cookbook, which is devoted to twenty different regions of Italy. I just made a fantastic pesce spada salmogrillo at home, which calls for marinating swordfish for two hours in olive oil, lemon zest and fresh parsley and then serving it with an Italian relish. It's simple and clean, with great, vibrant flavors.
What's your biggest pet peeve? When things aren't organized, everything takes so much more time -- time that should be committed to cooking and making people happy. It drives me crazy to have to spend five wasted minutes looking for a tool because it hasn't been put back in the right place.
Which chef has inspired you the most? Italian chef Giovanni Trapattoni taught me the art of Italian cooking. He doesn't speak English, so he taught me in Italian, and I used my native Spanish to decipher what he was saying. As you might imagine, I learned a lot of Italian very quickly. And most important, he taught me to have self-respect. On the first day of my instruction, he said, "Daniele, I will only explain these things to you once. If you learn these lessons well, you will cook for a long time, and if you don't, that's your own fault." He worked fifteen hours a day, six days a week in a kitchen, not because it was his job, but because it was his greatest joy. He taught me how to lovingly prepare the old recipes from his family, and after all this time, I can honestly say that I learned those lessons well.