The Untold Truth Of Erik Ramirez From Battle Of The Brothers

In Erik Ramirez's Michelin Bib-recommended  Llama Inn in Williamsburg, you can feast on Peruvian ceviches, tamales, and lomo saltado. Bobby Flay has been there (via Instagram), so why not you? The fermented hot sauce that Ramirez started making in May 2021 will be done by July 2021 (via Instagram). You might find it incorporated to the LLama Inn's menu, or perhaps you'll find it at Ramirez's other West Village-based, Nikkei-inspired ( Peruvian-Japanese-inspired) restaurant, LLama San (via New Yorker). There, you can order dishes like soft shell crab bao, with aji amarillo, tartar sauce, and tsukemono cucumbers (via Instagram). 

Do you recognize Ramirez from Padma Lakshmi's "Taste The Nation"? The New York City-based chef also recently worked with Bryan and Michael Voltaggio as a guest judge on "Battle of the Brothers." The culinary background you see in Ramirez's restaurants and tv appearances reflect his roots. The chef grew up in the states, with Peruvian immigrant parents. His father's side, says Food & Wine, is "100 percent Peruvan," while his grandmother's father immigrated to Peru from Japan. But if Ramirez spent his childhood in New Jersey, when he decided to cook there was no doubt that Manhattan would become his home. "We all have aspirations of being the best in our field," he told Manhattan with a Twist. "So for me, so for me, if there was any place to do that in the U.S. it's New York City." 

The dish by Erik Ramirez that impressed Padma Lakshmi

You're feasting your eyes on Erik Ramirez's grilled mackerel ceviche (via Instagram). His LLama In menu also features fluke ceviche and black bass ceviche, both served with crispy squid, capers, and avocado. At Llama San, you can order hiramasa ceviche with coconut, uni, and matcha or scallop ceviche with yuzu kosho, pitahaya, and nori. They're good. Or, as one Grub Street reviewer exclaimed, after getting so poetic over the composition Ramirez's ceviches that you'd think they were describing a Botecelli, "D*** , these are delicious."

No surprises here, Ramirez's ceviche also impressed Padma Lakshmi when she visited one of his restaurants for "Taste the Nation." To NPR, she described the experience of eating one of Ramirez's ceviches as "a revelation to me." And if everyone goes bonkers the dish, that's fitting. It was ceviche, after all, that convinced Ramirez to dedicate his life to Peruvian food. He'd taken a trip to Peru and ordered the seafood dish himself. "I was just like, wow...I couldn't believe what I'd been missing out on for 28 years," the chef remembered to Food Network.

What Erik Ramirez wants you to know about Peruvian food

"I never originally wanted to do Peruvian," Erik Ramirez once admitted to Zagat. "Nobody was taking it seriously here. If you wanted to be taken seriously as a chef, you needed to be cooking New American, French, or Italian." Ramirez, who attended the Art Institute in Philidelphia, worked at the American and French-food-inspired Eleven Madison Park and Irving Mill in New York City before becoming the executive chef at the Peruvian restaurant, Raymi (via Star Chefs).

He never went back to French, American, or even Italian food. The diversity of Peruvian cuisine, which reflects influences from the coast, the Andes, the Amazon, and the desert, stole Ramirez's heart (via Fed Guides). At Llama Inn and LLama San, the Peruvian-American chef tries to connect every dish, even what Ramirez describes as "simple salads," to Peru (via FSR).

That's because sharing Peruvian food with New York City isn't just about giving customers a taste of ambrosia. It's about sharing the richness and depth of Peru's culture. "At the end of the day, our cuisine is unique, delicious, and needs to be tasted," Ramirez told Zagat. "Cooking ain't easy, but if you have something you want to say and cooking is your only way to say it, you better be loud enough for the people in the back to hear you too."

The spice Erik Ramirez loves the most

In 2019, The New York Times raved about Erik Ramirez's Llama San. "Peru has a chile for every occasion, it seems," its reviewer wrote. "Mr. Ramirez knows which ones to use and when." If Ramirez's goal is to teach his patrons that Peruvian food is not just a world onto its own — but, instead, an entire, diverse, mouth-watering, finger-licking universe — he has undoubtedly succeeded. "I never knew Peruvian food could be like this," is something that customers often say to the New York-based chef (via FSR).

And part of Ramirez's success has to do with the care that he pours into choosing Peruvian ingredients that aren't, per what Ramirez told Star Chefs, often utilized in other restaurants. Huacatay (an herb) is a favorite of Ramirez's. He grows it on the LLama Inn's rooftop and uses it to make a sauce for his roast chicken (via Food Network). A host of Peruvian peppers also dominate his menus. The mundanity of the Peruvian chef's all-time favorite spice, however, might surprise you. "Is salt a spice?" he replied to The Daily Beast when asked. "Just kidding, it has to be cumin."

Love in a pandemic

Excuse the comparison. COVID-19 was Darth Vader to the restaurant industry. During 2020, due to the pandemic, 110,000 restaurants and bars temporarily or permanently closed across the United States, costing the industry 2.5 m million jobs per CNBC. Chef Erik Ramirez spent the year advocating for an industry-specific restructuring plan (via Instagram), and pioneering initiatives to try to support his displaced staff: among them inventing a "Support the Restaurants Act" cocktail (via Instagram), and the sale of sandwich packs and pastry boxes (via Instagram).

He also got married. In December 2020 the superstar chef tied the knot with his partner and the mother of his two children, Cierra Lauren Sweet (via Instagram). Sweet, who grew up in New Mexico (via Zagat) and has worked alongside Ramirez at Llama Inn (via New York Family), is an actor. "We are choosing to see the silver lining and incredibly grateful to have that choice," she captioned a post announcing their marriage. "Our love and our livelihood was tested, and yet we grew stronger and more resilient than ever. That's when we knew it was time to finally just do it." On, Ramirez's Instagram, he calls his wife "my everyday Valentine."

What Erik Ramirez's children taught him about culture

Erik Ramirez and Cierra Lauren Sweet are parents to two young children, Luca and Nico, who are pancake, ham and cheese omelet, and pizza lovers (via New York Family). Ramirez once admitted to New York Family that achieving a work-life balance with two young kids hasn't always been easy. But Ramirez's children, who have grown up eating his food (and going to restaurants with their parents) already aspire to his profession. Just check out Sweet's sweet pic of her son covered in temporary tattoos, because, as per the caption, "he said 'chefs have tattoos so... I should too.'" 

But if his kids are mini chefs, it's also true that Ramirez has learned invaluable lessons from Luca and Nico. "Having children actually brought out cultural connections I was barely even aware of," the chef reflected to Zagat. "My first son was born right before Llama Inn was created, and it made me so proud that he could come and eat what I ate growing up. Passing that on feels powerful and important."