Watching Chef Erwin Ramos move through the kitchen is like watching a conductor lead an orchestra. He weaves from station to station, starting the Ranchera Sauce for the Chicken Enchiladas we’re about to make, while carefully attending to giant pots of simmering Black Beans, Poached Chicken, and Tomato-Infused Rice. We chat about his background and food philosophies as we roast tomatoes in the Salamander, char onions and garlic, and toast a variety of chiles, spices and avocado leaf. For Chef Ramos, it’s all about featuring the simplicity and natural beauty of the ingredients at-hand. Having grown up in the Philippines, Chef Ramos took a trip to Mexico as teenager that made him fall in love with the flavors of Mexico, and that passion is still evident today. He wants Ole to be a model of consistency, he believes each diner should have a near identical experience from one visit to the next and that all starts in the kitchen.
We watched him multi-task various sauces and side dishes, at first it seems as if you have no idea how or when things are going to turn-out. But then, just like that, the Pasilla Chile Sauce is completed, and the refried beans (which literally went from a liquid pale brown to a stunning jet black over the course of an hour) are ultra-thick and even more delicious than when they humbly started in a generous splashing of Lard. In another pot, chicken is gently simmering away in a fragrant broth of aromatics and once they’re done, Ramos’ Sous-Chef pulls the meat off the chicken while we start assembling the plates. Literally everything is cooked from scratch, something that everyone takes for granted nowadays but few actually practice. There are no shortcuts here, what you see is what you get, and that mostly involves a lot of prep work and juggling more than a few things at once.
From time to time, we’d see Chef Ramos patiently staring over a big pot, calculating when to drop the next item into the pot. He smiles as he explains that timing, something that his mother taught him, is everything when it comes to cooking. Suddenly, with a quick snap of his wrist, the ingredients go into the pot, at the exact moment he intends them to and throughout our hour long visit, he repeats this practice over a symphony of simmering, hissing, chopping, grinding and blending.
It’s a testament to a hard-working chef, one who sees each day as an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of ingredients, both raw and cooked, and to become excited over those ingredients as if he’s seeing them again for the first time as a young chef on the line. “Smell this dried avocado leaf!”, he exclaims as he carefully breaks up the leaf in his hand to release its fragrance. “And taste this sauce”, he dictates as he dips tasting spoons into the pot of Ranchera.
From what we can easily gather, his cooking style really starts with an understanding of his ingredients, and knowing how to work with them. Drawing on life experiences, family members and worldly travels and sourcing the best ingredients from far reaches of the globe, one can assume that his level of enthusiasm, passion and pride for what he does and the food that he makes is something that hasn’t wavered since the start of his career. If that’s not enough to inspire us or you, I don’t know what is. As far as the Enchiladas went? Every bit delicious as anticipated, each bite a reminder of all the hard work and care that went into the dish. Spicy, hearty and most importantly satisfying, we can’t wait to stop back in.