2017 New York City Rising Star Chef Erik Ramirez of Llama Inn

2017 New York City Rising Star Chef Erik Ramirez of Llama Inn
January 2017

Erik Ramirez didn’t always want to cook Peruvian food. He was raised in New Jersey by Peruvian parents, and even though he wanted to cook for a living, he stayed away from his native cuisine. His first formative jobs in New York City found him developing classic French and American skillsets at Eleven Madison Park and Irving Mill, respectively.

One trip to Lima and a life-changing ceviche later, Ramirez returned home with a newfound love and appreciation for Peruvian food. At the time, he was cooking nuevo Latin at Nuela with mentor and Rising Stars alum Adam Schop. But when Nuela closed and turned into the Peruvian Raymi, Ramirez seized the opportunity to embrace his roots. Working his way up the hierarchy, he studied the techniques, ingredients, and flavors of Peruvian food, absorbing them on an even more subtle and intimate level. 

In 2015, with the help of business partner Juan Correa, Ramirez opened the brilliantly branded Llama Inn in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Before opening, Ramirez spent more time in Peru, hanging with the godfathers of modern Peruvian cuisine Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez. Llama Inn has received two stars from The New York Times, and a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Ramirez’s food is a delicious sucker punch to authenticity, but still captures the spirit, warmth, and vivacity of the traditional Peruvian kitchen.

Interview with New York City Rising Star Erik Ramirez of Llama Inn

DJ Costantino: How did you get your start?
Erik Ramirez:
I went to the Art Institute in Philly from 2001 to 2002. In school, I worked at a place called Amor de Cuba. I moved to New York and got a job at Frederick’s Madison, and then took a job at Eleven Madison Park. Then I went on to work at Irving Mill and Nuela where I met Adam Schop, then transitioned to Raymi as executive chef for two years.

I grew up Peruvian, always surrounded by great food, always enjoyed eating and hanging out in the kitchen. I fell in love with the people, the culture, and creativity. I never wanted to cook Peruvian food, though. I wanted to do French-American fine dining. But then I took a trip to Peru and fell in love. It was what I knew. I wanted to do more with the seasons and Peruvian technique and cuisine. The rest is history. 

DC: What was your most formidable experience?
Eleven Madison Park opened my eyes to a new world: details, ingredients, technique. I learned a lot from everyone, to say one is more important than the next wouldn't be true. But it was Adam Schop who taught me how to run a business, and he's been a good friend ever since.

DC: Whats are some of the challenges you faced in opening the restaurant?
Staffing in the beginning, getting the food right and having the right people working. It was tough dealing with the volume at first. Also, conveying the message of Peruvian food. Peruvian cusine is not a topic of conersation like Italian or Japanese, so sparring with the big cuisines.

DC: What are some underrated ingredients in your kitchen?
I don’t see a lot of Peruivan ingredients in other restaurants. Huacatay is beautiful, if more chefs could taste it, it would be utilized so much more, same with aji peppers. When people start learning and tasting these ingredients, they’ll start being used by more people. But chefs are starting to see that it’s ingredients like these and others that make Peruvian cuisine so special, and there’s room for that to permeate. 

DC: What’s your five year plan?
I want to grow and expand the Llama Inn brand, and push the envelope with Peruvian food. We have a less traditional sandwich concept, Deli Llama, and we have a robataya grill that we want to build an entire concept around.