What does it mean to “cook with love”? The expression has become almost trite, as if talent is less an integral ingredient than passion. As if someone with enthusiasm can will a dish into greatness.
But when talent and passion merge — when a chef or cook knows the techniques (and even invents a few) while absolutely loving the process and the ingredients — magic happens.
Julio Ramirez speaks of food and his eyes dance (call it a salsa). He smiles as he speaks, and spits out words one tick faster than his brain sometimes allows, malapropisms be damned. He loves to talk (for hours if you’ll let him) about food and the fascinating way it nurtures our soul. In Ramirez’s world, he embraces the words, cocinar con amor.
His passion, talent and business acumen led to the founding, along with his wife Marie Perucca-Ramirez, of two or our most heralded restaurants, The Fishwife Seafood Restaurants and Turtle Bay Taquerias, businesses they’ve long ago sold.
Certified as an Executive Chef by the American Culinary Federation, Ramirez was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Chefs in 2000. In 2001 he was awarded the ACF President’s Medallion and in 2005 he was awarded the Antonin Carême Medal by the Pacific Coast Chef’s Association for the excellence of his work and his humanitarian efforts in the community.
Locally, the Ramirezes were the first inductees into the Monterey County Restaurateur Hall of Fame in 2001, and was a pioneer in the adoption of sustainable seafood practices. Julio has spent the last few decades traveling the world with his wife Marie, immersing himself in other food cultures … always observing, participating, sharing.
He despises shortcuts, preaches classic technique but embraces ingenuity. And he’s always willing to learn, even after many decades spent teaching others.
“I love what I do. How can I get tired?” he said when asked why he keeps working, giving up nights, weekends … Valentine’s Day.
It’s clear Ramirez cooks with love, in both a literal and metaphysical sense. So our Valentine’s Day restaurant decision became clear early on. We sought out Ramirez, who cooks under the radar at Edgar’s at Quail Lodge … focusing despite the resort’s imminent sale rumors swirling around him.
Edgar’s is the clubby-casual restaurant that remains the only dining option at Quail since the closure of the adjoining hotel and the signature, high-end restaurant The Covey. It serves the needs of club members who live along the still-operating golf course, but many don’t realize it’s also open to the public.
It’s a quiet, classy, uncrowded, reasonably priced, under-the-radar, gimmick-free restaurant run by one of the most talented, iconic chefs in our area.
On Valentine’s Day, we opened the menu and atop the first page were the words: “Dishes Created with Love.” It may sound hokey, but each dish delivered. The tomato-fennel bisque was smooth and creamy with a hint of licorice, the salty bites of caviar the perfect accent. The duck confit “cigars” were an inspiration, the egg-roll-like tubes perfumed with fatty goodness but never greasy or flat, the jicama/cucumber/mango slaw the perfect foil for the rich duck.
The hits kept coming. Fire and ice cocktail with perfectly charred white prawns with avocado relish. Luscious crab cakes with a tomato-basil cream sauce and shaved fennel salad. Airline chicken breast stuffed with spinach, Port Salut cheese and pine nuts. Char-grilled porterhouse lamb chops with cheddar-scalloped potatoes.
Big changes are coming to Quail, with its buyer about the sign on the dotted line any day now. Look for a complete re-launch of the hotel and the old Covey. And look for Ramirez to lead the way with his simmering passion for cocinar con amor.