For many Rhode Islanders, chef Jules Ramos helped create the dining playlist of their lives.
He was there while they dined at Archie’s Tavern in Pawtucket, at Angels, XO Café and Mill’s Tavern in Providence, and then at 1149 in Warwick and 1149 East in Seekonk. He was in the background while many had romantic dates, business dinners, family gatherings and nights out with the ladies.
He’s tried his hand at opening his own places, including Moda and the Jules Ramos Café. He followed many accomplished chefs for a stint in the Café Nuovo kitchen.
Now, he’s executive chef at Chapel Grille in Cranston during this most challenging of times.
Chapel Grille, a restaurant with a huge bar, loft space and numerous dining rooms, opened 11 years ago with not one but three top chefs sharing the job. Today, Ramos doesn’t have a sous chef due to pandemic staffing issues. He said he just can’t find one.
An assortment of pandemic problems continues, he added. They are a unique combination of supply-chain issues.
“You really have to be watching to get the same quality for your ingredients,” he said.
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But he’s never been a guy to get discouraged. Instead he talks about the joy brought to him by his 3-year-old daughter, Stella. He’s also happy to have bought a house in the suburbs.
At 54, Ramos is an institution, not unlike one of his mentors, John Elkhay. Like Elkhay, a man who likes to be called maestro, Ramos has a sixth sense to know what diners want. That’s what makes him a chef who has always been in demand. That’s why he’s been the opening chef for so many restaurants.
He’s said in the past that his cooking style is cross-cultural. He likes to take a little from every kitchen and add his own twist.
As a child, he cooked with his mother, Natalia.
Chief Ramos’ early career
Ramos’s first job was at Archie’s Tavern in his hometown of Pawtucket. That’s where his Cape Verdean family settled in 1982. He was born in Angola and left there with his family in 1975 as civil war broke out in the country. They lived in Cape Verde until moving to the United States.
He started his college education studying engineering at the University of Rhode Island. But he decided cooking was his passion and moved on to Johnson & Wales University.
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“It’s funny though,” he said. “I tutored both my sister and nephew in engineering.” He has the aptitude but not the desire to make it a career.
Instead he turned his passion to cooking. Ramos talked about working at In Prov in Providence with Elhkay.
“That restaurant was years ahead of its time,” he said. “It had hand-painted walls, tapas and its own rotisserie.”
He and Elkhay also worked together at Angels, Catering Collaborative and Atomic Grill.
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It wasn’t just in the kitchen where he made his mark. In 1999, Elkhay launched an edgy ad campaign featuring four members of the XO Café staff for the restaurant’s 10th anniversary.
One magazine ad promoted “the naked truth about our Millennium party” with Ramos posing with strategically held letters “XO.”
He’s a good sport.
Techniques to cook duck
When asked to cook for a Small Bites video, he knew it had to be duck.
“People always ask me how to cook duck. It’s just an unknown to them,” he said. “People get intimidated and they overcook or undercook it. Most don’t know how to deal with it.”
He took the mystery away and shared the techniques needed to make duck tacos, or any kind of taco for that matter. He shared his Salsa Macha sauce recipe, too.
His easy recipe for preparing and cooking a duck breast starts with removing the silver skin. Then turn the breast over and score that side by making shallow cuts.
This prevents the duck from shrinking, gives it room to render the fat and produces a crispier piece of meat. Salt and pepper it before cooking.
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Simply salt the other side where you removed the silver skin.
Never cook duck in any kind of grease or oil. There is enough fat generated from the duck for cooking. Just lower the temperature to cook.
Cook duck to 125-130 degrees. Then let it rest before serving or slicing.
Salsa Macha cooking tips
For the Salsa Macha, he has suggested dried chili peppers but he said any ones are fine.
You want the dried chili to give the sauce its color. So don’t hydrate the peppers, but sauté them as is.
You can also use ancho chilli powder.
Basically, the sauce gets simmered until the chilies are tender and it turns bright red. Always do this on low heat.
It goes into the blender to finish.
He adds sesame seeds and chopped roasted peanuts before serving. But that is optional. He does it to add texture.
Right now Chapel Grille is featuring beef tacos, but he plans to put duck tacos on his upcoming spring menu.
Details: Chapel Grille, 3000 Chapel View Blvd., Cranston, (401) 944-4900, chapelgrilleri.com, Wednesday and Thursday 4 to 9 pm; Friday 4-10pm; Sat 3-10pm; Sunday 3-8 p.m.
Mini Duck Tacos recipe is the latest of The Providence Journal’s cooking videos called Small Bites, created in collaboration with the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau and shot in a demonstration kitchen at Hope & Main, the food-business incubator in Warren. You can see the video online with the story at providencejournal.com.
Here’s the recipe.
Mini Duck Tacos
8 4-inch flour tortillas
4 duck breasts
Slices of fresh avocado
3 radishes, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin on a bias
¼ cup Salsa Macha (see recipe)
8 cilantro sprigs
Pickled Shallots (see recipe)
To prepare the duck: With a sharp knife, remove all of the sliver skin on the flesh side of the breast. Trim off the excess skin all around.
Flip over the breast onto the board so that the skin side is up. Carefully score the skin in a crisscross pattern about 1/8-inch apart. Season the skin side with salt only. Flip over breasts, season the flesh side with salt and pepper.
Put the duck breasts skin side down in a cold frying pan over medium heat. Do NOT use oil. Start to render off the fat.
Sear the breast until crispy. Flip over the breast only when the skin side is golden brown. Once you flip over the breast, cook to medium to medium rare only. It should take only 1 to 2 minutes depending on the thickness.
Remove the breast to a paper towel lined plate to rest for 5 to 7 minutes prior to slicing thin.
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup water
3 shallots, sliced very thin
1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of the knife
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
Put the vinegar and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.
Put the other ingredients into a jar then for the hot liquid over. Refrigerate once it comes to room temperature.
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
2 ancho chili peppers, stems and seeds removed
2 Guajillo peppers, stems and seeds removed
2 chipotle peppers with adobo
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup peanuts, roasted and chopped fine
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
In a pan over medium heat, add the oil then caramelize the garlic and shallots.
Add the chilies, vinegar, water and oil then lower the heat to low. Simmer the sauce until the chilies are tender.
Put the mixture into a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add the sesame seeds, peanuts and rest of ingredients and mix to blend only. You want the salsa to be chunky.
Chill completely until ready to use.
To assemble the tacos: Using a pair of metal tongs, warm heat up the tortillas over a range flame or, in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Put matcha salsa on each tortilla.
Divide the duck slices evenly among the tortillas. Add some avocado slices. The top with scallions, cilantro sprigs, scallions and sliced radishes. Add a little of the pickled shallots on top.
Serve with a bowl of salsa matcha.
Makes 8 tacos
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