Interview With Chef Daniel Ramos of Market 17 (Part 2)

Categories: The Verbal Nosh
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Today we have the rest of our Q&A with chef Daniel Ramos, of the newly opened farm-to-table restaurant Market 17 in Fort Lauderdale. To read the first half of our interview, click here.

Sounds like it's quite a project to source food locally.
In New York, it is hard not to eat locally. You have markets everywhere. I would go to Union Square at 7 in the morning just to see all these chefs walking around. You pull your car up and everyone's got these baskets and wheelbarrows. Piles of garlic scapes, all kinds of herbs, and you just go in there and load up your basket, and everybody knows everybody. The beef, the pork, the chicken [merchants], they all go there. But in Florida, it's hard.

[With our pig farmer,] I need to talk to him Sunday to find out what he is going to slaughter on Monday, and then I need to talk to him Monday to see 

what he has available. He'll say, "I have two pork loins" -- and when I say pork loins, it's not your store-bought pork loins, clean and trim inside of a clear bag; it's actual whole pork loin from head to tail. We buy the belly because we do our own bacon. Right now in the walk-in, we have bacon curing, we've got pork pâté, we make head cheese.

Do you freeze stuff?
No, we don't freeze anything, and we buy small amounts. For instance, we had some ostrich from Okeechobee. We were down to maybe two pounds, and we took that meat and turned it into a smoked ostrich sausage. Now it is cured, so it is safe, so you can smoke it, you can air-dry it, you can do whatever you want to do, but those are just little things. Today we had our quail egg delivery. I bought like ten cases of different lettuces. I love turnips, so I always buy baby turnips; I buy baby beets. This morning, we had our banana guy come in, so he brought us our bananas, he brought some fresh coconuts -- all organic.

What about fish?
Fish, now fish I have certain people that I buy from. We have Wild Ocean, Kim Canaveral, Gary Seafood, and we have North Star. All our fish people have specific instructions that we only buy from Florida waters. Today we brought in a ten-pound north Atlantic cod only because the guy was like, "It just came in -- it's so fresh!" We only buy whole fish; we don't buy fillets. Tonight when I call them, it will be, "What did you get today? What just came in? What are you getting tomorrow morning?" The next day, it might be another kind of grouper or snapper, triggerfish.

And all of your chefs know how to prepare all of these different things?
Yeah, you know, honestly, we hired the right people, passionate people. Not to say that they are perfect, you know; they are learning. Just like I am learning. I hired this guy to cure and cut meats, and the reason why I hired him was because we sat down at the interview and he loves the whole philosophy of curing meats. He loves Michael Roman. And I hired him, and I told him I want you to be here and make every recipe and just be creative. For instance, there's no ostrich in that book, but learn the recipe, take that philosophy, and then apply it to what we're getting. You know we are getting the local pork, beef, and the ostrich. So that's what he did.

Now all of this can't be cheap.
No, it's expensive.

So do you have investors?
You know, it's Kirsta and Aaron, and that would be something you would have to ask her. I know it's a family business. I know her mother and father are involved. I guess you could say they're the investors and you know Kirsten and Aaron put their money into it and they're kind of the starters, but it is very expensive. Chicken, pork -- in stores, it's like $1.50 per pound, but our chicken is like $4.50 a pound. Everything we buy is humane, hormone-, antibiotic-free, no pesticides.

How did you pick this location?
I was hired after they chose a location, but they chose the location by really doing a demographic check on the area. The style of food was already prechosen; then you've got to find your market: Is it going to be Miami? Is it going to be Delray? Delray at this point is too much for people; there are too many choices. So they really did their homework and said, "Where's this concept going to fit, and where are we going to put it that there's nothing else that competes with it?" They must have seen at least two dozen properties everywhere from Lake Worth to Delray to south of here. The choice is good, because we do want to become a destination. Parking was also an issue. It was the perfect skeleton for what we wanted to do. We could change out equipment, and we spent five months deep-cleaning the kitchen, degrouting every square inch, every tile. Everything was redone.

You also have 350 wines, right?
Yeah, 350 wines by the label. We get a lot of compliments about it. We also do wines by the half glass. The whole concept is wine country cuisine. We want wine to complement the food. We want food to complement the wine. Perfect ingredients, simple preparations -- you really let the ingredients speak for themselves. There is not much you have to do to make it perfect.

Tell me about the dining in the dark.
Dining in the dark is the experience  -- you know, when you have something so good you feel like you are in love? It brings out that same emotion. It is something that is out of your world. Just regular food, but it is all built around flavors and your textures and your aromas. We will do potatoes in three different ways  --  we will do a purée of potatoes, we'll do a roast of potatoes, and then we'll do a potato chip, and then we'll cook it in a flavored oil. And we use that oil to fry some potatoes. Everyone that has done it so far, they really enjoyed it. We are the only one that has a complete pitch-black room where your server has to wear night-vision goggles. Some of the techniques that we use to really enhance the texture of chicken -- a lot of people don't even know it's chicken; they think it's beef. Or we serve grouper and people are like, "It's beef!" or "It's pork!" It's hard to figure out what you're eating when the texture is changed. We do scallops, and instead of doing a whole scallop, I cut it into four pieces. It's shaped like a triangle, and you're like, "It's not a scallop!"  People all guess out loud.

It's been busy so far?
Every day, there's a dining in the dark party. People have to reserve the room. There are two seatings a night -- a 5:30 and I believe a 7:30. When people come out, they let their eyes adjust and sit in the corner and have coffee or tea. I'll always talk to them and try to get some input and see how they did. I'll let the server know after every course what is on the plate. Even before they sit down, we ask for allergies.

If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only have three ingredients, what would they be?
Are they ingredients for life? I would have rice; I love rice. I grew up with rice, and I could eat rice in every which way. I'd bring vinegar because I could pickle ingredients. [thinks for a long time] Well, if I had to bring tools with me, I would bring a sharp knife.

OK, we'll let you have rice, vinegar, and a knife. Do you have any guilty pleasures? Like eating at McDonald's?
My guilty pleasure is I love peanut butter and jelly. I keep some stashed here in the back. And I also love milk and cookies.

Do you have ambitions to do a reality competition? Become Top Chef or anything like that?
You know, I don't. I love doing this. I love running a kitchen. I mean, obviously, I want to be recognized among my peers and within the industry, but I don't have any really Top Chef or Hell's Kitchen ambitions. Those shows -- I can't watch them. It stresses me out. 

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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