Over the last year, José Ramírez-Ruiz, the chef-owner of Brooklyn’s now-closed, Michelin-starred vegetable-forward restaurant Semilla, quietly moved to Miami and worked a corporate consulting job as he conceptualized his next endeavor.
Last week, he quit that job to throw himself headlong into his new project: a Miami-based evolution of Semilla using a palette of ingredients previously unseen in the tasting menus that regularly drew crowds to his 465-square-foot restaurant.
Diners can get a preview next week of what Ramírez-Ruiz — who worked at New York’s Per Se, Isa, and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare — is planning when he and All Day owner Camila Ramos host a pop-up inside her downtown coffee shop highlighting natural wines and early Florida growing season ingredients. The pop-up will run December 6 and 7 from 7 p.m., with dishes ranging from $9 to $25 and wines by the glass and the bottle.
“I spent most of my life cooking in restaurants in colder climates, so for me, it was about getting used to working with onions and squash and beets,” Ramírez-Ruiz says. “Being down here was almost like starting from zero; I never worked at a place with cinnamon and cardamom and allspice and mangos and pineapples, and that’s what sold me.”
At Semilla, he was lauded for a multicourse tasting menu produced and served by a skeleton staff. The small space and crew decided what he was able to serve. A simultaneous focus on waste reduction led him to create dishes dictated by farmers,like crudités served with ramp dressing and dehydrated onion skin powder.
While Ramírez-Ruiz was reticent to put a timeline or name on his next restaurant, he says it would be less a copy of Semilla and more of a bar avantlike one finds across Europe.
“Me and my friends here in Miami get together maybe once a month. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and whoever is hosting cooks,” he says. “Then after several times of doing this, we said, “This is what we want: a place you can eat dope food and it’s not expensive, get a $9 glass of wine, or we can open some vintage bottle if you want.”
Semilla began in a similar fashion with a pop-up called Chez José that migrated around Brooklyn before finding a permanent home. Ramírez-Ruiz likened this latest effort to Manfred’s, the convivial project from Copenhagen chef Christian Puglisi, whose Michelin-starred sibling Relae sits across the street. Here everything is washed down with an abundance of punchy natural wine alongside vegetable-focused dishes like asparagus, cod cream, and sorrel.
At the same time, the unexpected emergence of Ramírez-Ruiz in Miami, and not Chicago or San Francisco, or Los Angeles or Seattle or Asheville, is an encouraging moment for Miami dining. He’s not alone. Carey Hynes, who worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Pascal Barbot’s L’Astrance, along with barman Will Thompson recently opened Jaguar Sun in the X Miami. Both say there are more New Yorkers on the way, and not investors or restaurateurs or celebrity chefs, but bona fide cooks.
Miami chefs and restaurants continue to struggle to find reliable cooks. Of course, the low pay and brutal work cause similar shortages around the country, but many chefs in Miami also quietly say they have trouble keeping their most talented line cooks in town. The single greatest achievement in Miami’s culinary world over the last decade is that it has evolved into a community as opposed to an amalgam of competitors. Here and there, you’ll find cooks and chefs popping down to Chris French’s farm to see what’s growing or spending some time in Brad Kilgore or Niven Patel’s kitchens. A cook from the latter recently left to work at Tadashi Shiraishi’s Hiden. But many cooks also leave town, believing there to be better opportunities for work and business elsewhere. Anything that helps dispel that notion and keep them here is something to be excited about.
José Ramírez-Ruiz Pop-Up at All Day. 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday, December 6, and Friday, December 7, at 1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-699-3447; alldaymia.com. For reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org