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The Palm's Marco Ramirez on new food strategies, his boner and how to cook the perfect steak

The Palm's Marco Ramirez on new food strategies, his boner and how to cook the perfect steak
Lori Midson

Marco Ramirez The Palm 1672 Lawrence Street 303-825-7256 www.thepalm.com

This is part two of my interview with Marco Ramirez, executive chef of The Palm. In part one of that interview, Ramirez talks about life in a crazy-busy kitchen, the flood that almost drowned it, and how hard work and determination fulfilled his American dream.

Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: 1515 Restaurant. I like its French flair, and I've worked alongside Chuck James, the executive chef, who's a great guy. It's a completely understated restaurant that leans toward the fresh, local ingredients that I like to see.

Favorite restaurant in America: The Palm, because it's my place. It's truly an American steakhouse, and there's nothing on the menu that disappoints me. That's not something I can say about any other restaurant.

Best food city in America: Denver. It's my town, and there's great variety here. It's true that we're still trying to find a food that people will identify us with that isn't the Rocky Mountain oyster -- something like New York-style pizza or Chicago dogs -- but despite the fact that there's not really a Denver anything (the Denver omelet doesn't count), I love the food scene here and think that we're pretty well-rounded.

Favorite music to cook by: I like a music-free kitchen at work, but when I'm cooking at home, I'll listen to smooth jazz with a nice glass of red wine to relax. That said, come into the Palm kitchen on a Friday morning, and my guys have their salsa and hip-hop blasting. It sounds like a fiesta.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: Newer food strategies. A trend comes along and we seem to beat it to death. Right now, the trend seems to be gastropubs and burger joints. Instead of hopping on the gravy train, I'd like to see some fresh ideas from all the new restaurants. And while we're deemed one of the healthiest cities in America, I find very few restaurants taking advantage of the commendation.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: More locally owned restaurants that are successful and survive the changing palates of our residents.

What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? A boning knife, which I use for everything, from cutting meat to cutting fish. With a boning knife, the cuts are made so easily and smoothly.

Favorite dish to cook at home: Breakfast. It's a leisurely thing that my family does on the weekends, while I'm still in my pajamas. As for the menu, my wife, Claudia, dictates that. She's partial to a traditional American breakfast of hash browns -- the shredded ones that cook on the flattop -- and eggs over easy. Occasionally, I'll make a mean pancake to go with them; I know who the boss is at my house and how to keep her happy.

 

Favorite dish on your menu: Surf and turf with steak and lobster. It's one of our signature menu items, which most people know, but what they don't know is that our lobster is flown in fresh and live daily; our meat is never frozen. I just wish people would eat it more often instead of saving it for a special occasion. Every day is an occasion to enjoy a treat of great food.

If you could put any dish on your menu, even though it might not sell, what would it be? A 72-ounce porterhouse steak, more or less for the wow factor.

One book that every chef should read: The Sauce Bible. It's a great cookbook with sauce recipes that you can use to make so many different dishes, and it also provides the basis to prepare so many other dishes than just the sauces that accompany them.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network, and what would it be about? I'd pitch a show that would teach at-home cooks to prepare healthier alternatives for their families -- especially their children. Being the father of two, I can relate to the most recent initiatives addressing childhood obesity. Healthy eating habits all start at home.

Current Denver culinary genius: What, I don't count? Kidding. I really love what Chuck James, the executive chef at 1515 Restaurant, has going on over there. His plates are full of unique sauces and flavors.

You're making a pizza. What's on it? A Hawaiian-style pizza with ham, cheese, pineapple and roasted mangoes.

Weirdest customer request: A lobster shake. It just doesn't sound good, and frankly, I just couldn't do that to lobster meat.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Frog's legs. Funny thing is, they really do taste like chicken.

Best culinary tip for a home cook: If you want to grill an amazing steak, rub it with a little olive oil, crush a bit of fresh garlic, and liberally season it with salt and pepper. Sear it in a really, really hot pan to trap the flavor, and finish it in the oven on broil at 400 degrees.

If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? Chef Paul Prudhomme. He's been a great inspiration in my culinary pursuits, and I'd be sure to use his line of spices and sauces in whatever I prepare.

 

Favorite celebrity chef: Emeril Lagasse. He has a wide range of culinary talent and that French flair, and, unlike some other chefs, he's still involved in the operations end of the industry.

Celebrity chef who should shut up: Rachael Ray. I just find her annoying, and I'd really like to know the last time she actually worked in, or ran, a restaurant kitchen. So many chefs these days give it up for the millions, but for many of us, the creativity and menu design of our jobs is such a small portion of what we do. When was the last time she had to worry about food costs? Or better yet, when was the last time she worked the line expediting a busy service? To be an executive chef, you must also be a great kitchen manager.

Are chefs artists, craftsmen or both? Both. We certainly need the creativity of artists to create our menu and specific dishes, but we're craftsmen in the sense that cooking is a trade.

What's your favorite knife? My boning knife. It's such a flexible piece of equipment, and when you hand-cut meat and fish, as we do here at the Palm, the butchering process is so much easier.

Hardest lesson you've learned, and how you've changed because of it: It has nothing to do with my kitchen and everything to do with dealing with my son Richard's illness. Having a special-needs child has taught me to appreciate and love my family: They will always come first. But pertaining to my work life, it's the patience and perseverance that Richard has given me. If something goes wrong, or if it's been a bad day, I wake up the next morning knowing that's it's going to get better.

Last meal before you die: Papusas and tamales. Being from El Salavador, I miss the papusas. It's like the American hamburger: When you're away from it, you can't wait to get home and have it. You can certainly get papusas in the States, and I can make them myself, but they just never taste the same. And to have it one last time...

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Palm Restaurant

1672 Lawrence St.
Denver, CO 80202

303-825-7256

www.thepalm.com


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