Little more than two months after starting at Michael Schwartz's eponymous Design District restaurant, Saul Ramos has been named chef de cuisine, overseeing the kitchen as it enters its tenth year in business and prepares to launch a menu rife with new items.
Slated to roll out early next week, the menu includes a handful of the items the 26-year-old Ramos used to land the job. Among them are a gem lettuce salad with pickled vegetables and tuna sauce ($11), a leek-and-potato crostada ($9), and a posole rojo with pork belly, cilantro, and a fried egg ($14).
The additions come alongside an array of new offerings akin to what Schwartz does best: pristine roasted fish and meat, vegetables, and, lately, pizza and pasta. Find short-rib croquettes and a shrimp báhn mì toast ($9 each), as well as a whole roasted artichoke ($17) stuffed with bread crumbs and a French-Italian hybrid blue cheese called Cambozola. Pizza and pasta choices are expanding to two apiece and will change regularly, while a slew of new proteins are also in the offing. There's crisp lamb neck with chickpeas, cucumber, yogurt, dill, and preserved lemon ($16), and pan-roasted tilefish with clams, bacon, green onion, and green sauce ($25).
The change comes as Schwartz, now age 52, enters yet another chapter in his career. His brand is booming nationwide thanks in part to the James Beard Award he claimed in 2010. Now you can find his operations on a fleet of Royal Caribbean cruise ships, across Miami, and soon in Los Angeles. Yet during a lengthy interview over lunch in his bustling Design District spot where it all began, Schwartz said his greatest challenge is keeping his flagship relevant while not straying too far from what it does well.
"We're about simplicity, letting our food speak for itself," Schwartz told New Times in July. "For us the challenge is to resist the temptation to manipulate."
And Ramos, whose cooking background includes steakhouses, Italian, and Mediterranean, seemed an ideal fit.
He was born in San Luis Potosí in central Mexico and raised in Chicago, where he began working in restaurants at the age of 13 after acting up in school. His sister Berenice, who was dating a restaurant owner at the time, threw him into a kitchen for a taste of real life, but Ramos couldn't get enough. He spent his teenage summers doing odd jobs around restaurants — bussing tables, running food, helping in the kitchen wherever he could — and by the time high school was over, he was ready to commit. After bouncing around in places such as Maggiano's and the Rainforest Café, Ramos linked up with Chicago chef David Blonsky (who had once worked at the Chicago restaurant Trio, which launched Grant Achatz's career) to open Chicago's Bull & Bear.
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"He was the chef who pushed my limits," Ramos says. "He was always asking me to come up with new stuff, develop new recipes, to work harder."
The pair later worked together on Fabio Viviani's Siena Tavern in Chicago before decamping to Miami to open Aperio Kitchen & Bar. The shuttering of Apeiro's midtown Miami outpost after mixed reviews ended up being a blessing for Ramos, who turned around to land a job as a line cook at Michael's Genuine. Barely a month after starting, he was offered a chance to audition for the kitchen's top spot and claimed it with that posole, some eggplant croquettes, and a pair of simple salads.
Ramos says the new menu was a collaboration among Schwartz, the Genuine Hospitality Group's Bradley Herron, and himself. "We were sitting around thinking about the kind of plates we love," Ramos says. "Michael had a lot of ideas and wanted Chef Brad and I to look it over and add our own ideas."