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Q & A with Cesar Ramirez

It’s not often a chef moves from an ambitious restaurant kitchen to a gourmet market, but Cesar Ramirez couldn’t be happier about the dramatic change.  Ramirez trained at Bouley where he met his then, future partners for Bar Blanc.  Other than its name, it wasn’t really a bar at all.  The food was sophisticated, sometimes precious, and there was even a $72, four-course tasting menu.   His cooking earned him attention and positive reviews.   Suddenly, he parted ways with his partners and disappeared for awhile.

Just recently, he resurfaced as the executive chef at Brooklyn Fare, a gourmet market where he prepares takeaway lunches.  Instead of roasted red snapper with dashi broth and tofu puree, he now makes daily soups, chicken fingers, and salads.  But more importantly, he still gets to be a chef five nights a week where he improvises a multi-course dinner for twelve guests.  No two dinners are ever the same.   If you visit Brooklyn Fare for dinner, you might find Ramirez cooking fried calf brain “poppers,” Long Island duck wrapped in spinach mousse with artichokes in a foie gras chantilly sauce.    


What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be in fashion – the excitement of selling and buying!

What was your first job in food?  What did you learn?
Garde Manger.  It taught me to keep my head down, keep my mouth shut.

You were born in Mexico, but trained to be a French chef.  Do you ever incorporate Mexican flavors into your food?  Would you ever consider opening up a Mexican restaurant?

I grew up in Chicago (I came from Mexico when I was 4 years old,) so I only incorporate the Mexican herb Epazote, and no, will not consider opening a Mexican Restaurant.

You earned two stars from the NYT at Bar Blanc and yet, you were replaced by Bouley alum Sebastiaan Zijp.  How did you react to the split?
Actually, it was not shocking.  I was planning to part ways and was more than happy to leave the restaurant.

You’ve made the unconventional leap from restaurant to grocery store cooking at Brooklyn Fare.  How have you adapted to your new work environment?  Do you prefer one to the other?
It was something different.  I was very happy to take the challenge and it worked in my favor.  I enjoy both!

Five nights a week, you come up with an improvised menu for up to 12 guests at Brooklyn Fare.  How do you come up with such unusual dishes (tomato jelly with mozzarella mousse) on the fly?  Do you go in that morning having some sense of what you’ll be making?  Do you honor substitutes?
I have so many ideas and a strong basis in the technique to be able to execute certain dishes, which helps in thinking up my menus.  I do have a sense of what I’m doing in the morning, though it can sometimes change based on availability or quality of ingredients and even sometimes on my mood.  And yes, I do honor substitutes.

I would call the cooking in the market American comfort food.

You trained under David Bouley while working at Tru in Chicago.  What did you learn from him that has really stuck with you? 
Take care of your customers. 

You were quoted referring to yourself as a craftsmen, not a chef.  What are your standards for what a chef should be? 
Let’s finally get this straight – I HAVE NEVER CALLED MYSELF A CRAFTSMAN.  That was a misinterpretation by a writer and not my words.
This is what I said on the subject: a craftsman is someone who is practicing his craft everyday and improving his craft on a daily basis.  Not like so many lazy chefs who are a bunch of pencil pushers, or worse yet the ones who stand by on the side with their crisp and clean CHEF jackets yelling and screaming when they can’t even really cook or move around the kitchen and only care to promote themselves and their egos.

During your eight-year tenure under Bouley, you traveled to Japan with him.  Tell us about some of your most memorable culinary experiences there…

The most memorable experiences and meals of my life were in Japan.  I had the honor of meeting a gentlemen about 70 years old (a true craftsman) and his sous chef who was about 65 years old and preparing and cooking a meal together.  In that meal I could taste simplicity, sophistication, creativeness and so much humbleness all rolled into one. 

What is your favorite item on the menu at Brooklyn Fare?
The two green beans and broccoli slaw.

What is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Chicken fingers, but kids like them.

What are some foods trends you predict for 2010?
I don’t know…I work daily and forget what I did just a couple minutes ago!  I’m either at Brooklyn Fare or trying to grab a few minutes of sleep.

What is your favorite restaurant in New York City?
Le Colonial – they haven’t changed their menu since I lived in Chicago.  It’s always been the same and consistent, and I love that about the restaurant.

Any new projects on the horizon?  Spill the beans….
We are expanding our dinners to allow for a few more seats, and in general, are always striving to make it a better experience for our patrons each week.

Brooklyn Fare

Address: 200 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn NY
Phone: (718) 243-0050 

One Comment

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