Summit County’s chef is a favorite among seniors
Jair Ramirez showcases culinary talents at weekly meals
As nearly 30 seniors talked quietly among themselves at the South Summit Senior Center on Monday, Jair Ramirez deftly prepared their lunch in a nearby kitchen, determined to be ready by noon.
He quickly moved around the kitchen, adding additional seasoning and toppings to the salmon – a favorite among the seniors – and pulling side dishes from the oven.
Shortly after noon, he set the food in the window to be served and then immediately began plating his favorite course to prepare, the dessert, which he described as a traditional Mexican dish.
For nearly two years, Ramirez, an Oakley resident, has been the cook for Summit County’s three senior centers. On Mondays and Thursdays, he prepares meals for the South Summit and Park City centers, while he spends Wednesdays and Fridays at the North Summit Senior Center.
“I have been cooking for about 16 years,” Ramirez said. “Cooking for the seniors makes me so happy because I can see their faces and I can see how they enjoy the food and I can learn to be better. I enjoy this job because it is different from restaurants. It’s not the same pressure. But, I have to do everything in three hours and everything comes from scratch.”
Ramirez, who is originally from Mexico, has spent the last 18 years in the United States perfecting his culinary skills. He said he was originally given the option to work in construction or a kitchen.
“I chose the kitchen,” he said. “I started learning from traditional, great chefs and was taking a little bit of everything. I love it.”
Ramirez learned how to cook various American and ethnic dishes, including Italian, French, Asian and Mexican. He credits the 10 years he spent at Shabu as a pastry and sous chef as the “greatest teacher.” He never went to a traditional culinary school.
“Shabu was a great place to learn how to make a good experience about food,” Ramirez said. “It gave me really good skills and experience and talent to make food. That was my first school.”
While Ramirez said he loves cooking for the seniors, at home he prefers his wife’s cooking. The couple, which has four children, including a 9-month-old daughter, has been married for 16 years.
“I love Mexican food and my wife is really good at making it,” he said. “I’m not really good with it because I have been more focused on Asian, French and Italian. But she can make anything. I cook on the holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she cooks every day because I prefer to eat her food.”
Ramirez started cooking for the seniors in the fall of 2015 and they have sung his praises ever since. Shirlene Milliner, a Peoa resident, said he is an ideal cook.
“When Jair came in, he observed and paid attention to what we like and has just been so good,” Milliner said. “He knows how to have everything prepared so it is warm when it is served for us. He flavors everything so well and I just really enjoy his cooking.”
Betty W. Jines, president of the South Summit Senior Center for the last three years, said members are extremely happy with him.
“I think our numbers have definitely gone up because people are eager to come and eat lunch because of him,” Jines said.
Heather Nalette, Summit County’s senior citizen coordinator, confirmed that attendance at the lunches has increased since Ramirez came on board.
“Jair does a really good job at trying to accommodate everyone, even when we have extras or a vegetarian or someone is gluten free,” Nalette said. “We want to feed everyone the best we can and he personally takes it that little extra.”
Nalette said she is looking forward to the completion of the Summit County Services Building in Kamas, which will house a new senior center and include a larger kitchen area. Ramirez agreed.
“I can’t wait for the new kitchen and a bigger space,” he said.
While Ramirez said he would eventually like to start his own catering business, he emphasized that he doesn’t plan on leaving his current position anytime soon. He said he likes the freedom he is afforded, such as being able to create a monthly menu based on the seniors’ preferences.
“I like it that way,” he said. “I can make it different so it’s not always the same. The most popular thing they like is meatloaf, so that’s the only dish I can keep every month.
“But, I like cooking for them,” he added. “They remind me of cooking for my grandparents. It’s my passion. I like it. It’s not like, ‘Ugh, it’s Monday. I don’t want to go to work. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s Monday. I get to go to work.'”
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