The Inn at Pound Ridge. Photos by Andrew Dominick
It’s been a journey in culinary education and training for the Colombia native, but the recipe for success is strong.
For the first time in more than five and a half years, The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges has a new chef de cuisine.
Succeeding Ron Gallo, who moved on to JG’s Happy Monkey in Greenwich, is Nicolas Ramirez, who took over the reins in March.
For Ramirez — who’s had quite the culinary journey to get to where he is today — this is a big step, especially considering he never intended to come to the States in the first place, let alone lead the back-of-house team in a prestigious chef’s establishment.
But cooking? That’s something Ramirez knew he wanted to do ever since he was a kid growing up in Ibagué, Colombia.
“I always watched cooking shows, and they all took place in Argentina, so I wanted to go there,” he says. “But I realized I couldn’t afford it. I went to culinary school in Colombia. It was a free school, one you go to when you can’t afford to go to college. The quality of their training in other areas is high, and they put out good employees, just not for culinary school.”
Ramirez did eventually come to the U.S., post culinary school, to up his education by getting hands-on experience. He landed in Connecticut and began working at Oak & Almond in Norwalk. “I actually lived with chef Freddy, [and ]his family became like my stepparents,” Ramirez says.
Wanting to move his skills and his career forward, Ramirez knew he had to work harder.
“I went to Elm in New Canaan to work under Luke Venner, and Luke fired me right after Thanksgiving,” he explains. “I wasn’t up to those standards. I thought I was ready, but I was not. I was like, ‘Damn, this is real.’ It made me want to succeed even more.”
He continues: “I made my way to New York City and enrolled in culinary school there.” He attended the renowned International Culinary Center, formerly The French Culinary Institute, which is now simply referred to in the industry as ICE, the Institute of Culinary Education. Says Ramirez, “I figured I might as well work in the city, too, to learn and grow.”
While in town, he dropped off resumes all over. “I went to Bar Boulud and met with a chef there. He asked me when I was ready to start. I told him I have no plans for today, that I can start today. I had my shoes, my knife, everything with me. And I needed a job.”
Commuting daily from Bridgeport for class and to cook at Bar Boulud (somehow also finding time to stage at JG’s ABC Cucina) entailed considerable time and out-of-pocket expense, but Ramirez knew that daily grind was worth it.
“I learned a lot, especially at Bar Boulud from [executive chef] Dieter Samijn,” he says. “He was tough. A tall guy from Belgium. Strong accent. He could make anyone cry,” recalls Ramirez. “But he knew my commitment of traveling so far to get there, going to school, going to work, coming back to Connecticut only to do it all over again.” He explains: “I’d wake up at 5 a.m. and we’d close the restaurant at midnight. I’d always have to run out of there to catch the train back home. But it was one of the best experiences I had.”
Even good experiences have to end, especially at $16 per hour. After Bar Boulud, Ramirez moved onto Electric Lemon at Hudson Yards, but the pandemic nixed that. He then joined the Z Hospitality Group for a few years as a sous chef and chef de cuisine at Connecticut’s Soleil and Terra.
Still wanting more, and now with a beefed-up resume, Ramirez found himself at Happy Monkey, one of JG’s newest spots.
“I interviewed with Ron [Gallo] and became Ron’s executive sous chef,” Ramirez says. When Gallo left The Inn permanently for Happy Monkey, Ramirez learned he was the first option for chef de cuisine at The Inn. He obviously said yes.
Some of his first orders of business that he’s excited about? Teamwork, training, and getting through the language barrier that existed before he arrived.
“Half my crew speaks Spanish, and the language barrier has an impact on training,” Ramirez says, explaining: “When they understand why things are done a certain way and why they’re on the plate, it makes a huge difference. When you build a strong relationship with your team, you’ll put out better food.”
Currently, Ramirez is churning out stunning Jean-Georges dishes, each with its own intricacies, each super seasonal and fresh, using the best produce, organic meat, and day-of fresh seafood, per JG standards.
Soon enough, Ramirez will get around to creating his own specials, and some will undoubtedly become seasonal mainstays; but for now, his sole focus is on the team.
“I’m perfectly capable of doing that, but right now, my focus in on them,” he says. “If I don’t have a good team, we can’t execute the menu properly and I can’t look forward to specials. Once that’s strong, and we’re like 80% there, then we’ll do it.”
The Inn at Pound Ridge by Jean-Georges
258 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge; 914.764.1400