Recently we sat down with Chef John Ramagli of J Wine Bistro and Rotten Johnny’s Wood-Fired Pizza Pie in Sedona Arizona. During our Q&A we learned everything from what he hopes to be doing in 10 years to his favorite kitchen gadget.
Q&A With Chef John Ramagli
Q: Where did you grow up?
Chef John Ramagli: I grew up in Bucks County Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia.
Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
CJR: I’ve been a chef my whole life. I started cooking just to make money for car insurance, and I started making salads in Italian restaurants. I then moved into serving tables and worked with some great chefs, and I’d say that’s where my inspiration came from.
Q: How did you hear about Niman Ranch?
CJR: I heard about Niman Ranch from another restaurant I worked at as a server in Phoenix. As a server, you get to know the product and the story behind it. So, when I opened my restaurant, J Wine Bistro and Rotten Johnny’s Wood-Fired Pizza Pie, I use Niman Ranch because it supported things I already knew.
Q: Why do you choose/use Niman Ranch?
CJR: I use Niman Ranch because of the story. We want to build a brand that supports the story and is true to the label. It’s hard to find nowadays, but we can educate people on the product.
Q: What inspired you to support family farmers who raise sustainable and humanely raised beef, pork, and lamb?
CJR: Being a chef is really hard work but being a farmer is even harder! I know what it’s like to have your own business and put in all those hours, and it’s a lot of times uncertain at the end of the month, but it always pulls through. I support small, independent farmers because I put myself in the same category – we’re not a big restaurant we are small. I’d rather support smaller businesses.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10?
CJR: In 5 years? I don’t know if there would be another restaurant, I already have two. But in 10 years, I hope I’m coaching little league. I have two small kids. One is six months old, and the other is 18 months old, and my son just started preschool. So, by ten years, the restaurants will still be going, and I’ll still be here often but just not the 80-90 hours a week that I work now. I hope to be spending a bit of those hours on the t-ball field or baseball or basketball or whatever it is. Family is important – You can’t forget about it.
Q: What person would you most like to cook for?
CJR: That’s a good question…I never thought about it. I’ll say, there is a person that I’d like to cook for, Derek Hall, he’s the CEO of the Dimond Backs. When I was a server in Phoenix. he (and his family} was one of our frequent customers.
Q: What did you have for dinner last night?
CJR: I had hamburger soup and a couple pieces of quesadilla. We eat like scavengers sometimes when I come home at 11 o’clock at night. I didn’t make it, it was made by my mother in law, and it was pretty tasty!
Q: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
CJR: I’d probably go with garlic. It’s a good ingredient, and it works well with just about anything you are doing. I also like caramelized onions to add sweetness. And of course, proteins too, different cuts of meat and fresh fish. But overall, it’s probably aromatics because it brings the whole dish together.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
CJR: Definitely the blender. In particular the Vitamix. It’s a key element into purees, and we do a lot of purees, and you need something real powerful for a real nice and smooth puree to go at the bottom of the plate. I like purees because we work with rice mixtures and rice combinations with a lot with organic vegetables in them and the puree helps the rice and everything stick to the fork. I try to create dishes that are simple to eat and not a mess.
Q: Are there any foods you don’t like?
CJR: I will eat just about anything. I can’t think of something that I don’t like. I even like liver! We had liver on the menu here, and everyone thought I was crazy, but it sold like hotcakes.
Q: What do you love most about your job as a chef?
CJR: What I love most is teaching staff. The work pool gets smaller and smaller, especially up here in Sedona. We work commonly with people who have little or no experience and when they buy into what you are doing, and they see something they start to love, it pulls the kitchen together.
As a chef and business owner, you must pass that knowledge on because you are a lot of things. You are a mentor, a counselor… and you must have a good personal relationship with everyone on the staff. There are a lot of personalities, and you must be the person to tie that all together to make the kitchen work.
Q: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick?
CJR: It would be the cheesesteak. Remember, I grew up outside of Philadelphia.
Q: If you weren’t a chef, what would you do for a living?
CJR: That is something I need to think about because you never know. I was a personal trainer for about five years, so health and fitness was a favorite thing of mine. I could see myself doing that again because I like helping people and watching them change.
Q: Most embarrassing cooking moment?
CJR: There was one time when I was supposed to go on tv…one of the local channels. I had everything ready to go and drove to Phoenix and went to the station that morning and realized I was 2 hours from where I was supposed to be. I was supposed to be in Prescott, not Phoenix. A little embarrassing and a little frustrating to say the least.