When Kaitlin Ramos was offered the job of executive chef at , she wasn’t going to let a little thing like a shattered leg stand in her way. Motocross racing is one of Ramos’ longtime hobbies, and she was in the hospital thanks to a nasty spill when she got the call about the opening at the downtown Encinitas restaurant. Rather than pass on the opportunity, Ramos told Roy Salameh, St. Germain’s owner and general manager, that she’d start as soon as she was up and about.
“There was a lot of bringing chairs in the kitchen so I could sit and show the staff how I wanted things done,” says Ramos, 23, who worked in a leg brace and on crutches until she healed. “I was also talking to customers, so I was out in my chef’s jacket hobbling around.”
That determination has paid off for Ramos, who calls the St. Germain’s job a “dream come true.” Brought in this past summer to retool the breakfast and lunch menus, as well as the restaurant’s new dinner service, Ramos will be unveiling her new menu items at a public tasting Friday, Nov. 11. The dishes will be a blend of American and French comfort foods, such as the trio of macaroni and cheese — cheddar with crispy pork belly, gruyere with caramelized leeks, and blue cheese with applewood smoked bacon. “The macaroni and cheese is very American, but the pork belly and leeks have a French influence,” she says.
Ramos has a passion for French food, which can be traced back to the Julia Child cooking shows she watched as a child that helped inspire her to pursue a culinary career. Growing up in Mira Mesa, Ramos graduated from high school and spent some time at San Diego City College before going to Las Vegas to complete an 18-month program at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. During the second week of study, a teacher saw her promising cooking skills and referred her to a friend at Wolfgang Puck’s Springs Café. After working for free and pitching in where she could, she was given a job as a prep cook. “I had no fine dining experience so I was stuck on onion peeling,” she says with a laugh, but she later became line cook and then ran catering before leaving after almost three years to move with her husband, whose military career had him stationed in Kansas. When he was deployed last year, Ramos moved back to San Diego so they could live here after he finishes his military service this month.
Ramos first came to work at St. Germain’s without actually working for St. Germain’s — chef Dan Moody hired her as a line cook for his pop-up restaurant, , which took over St. Germain’s in the evenings for a brief time earlier this year. It was Moody who recommended Ramos for the executive chef job at St. Germain’s.
“I’m so thankful to Roy and Dan,” says Ramos, who also lives in Encinitas. “I’m only 23 so I’m lucky to be in this position at this age. I figured I’d be doing this somewhere down the road but not at this time in life and in this location. We have amazing cooks and servers, and everyone has come together and put in a huge effort.”
Ramos has enjoyed developing the menu. The idea for many of her French bistro dishes came while she was watching, of all things, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “Sometimes I just sit on the couch and watch TV to take my mind off the day, and sometimes something will click and I’ll start writing,” she says. “They had a clip making fun of these French guys and a whole list of dishes came out from there.” Ramos took that list of ideas and figured out what would work with the small staff and kitchen, and then the staffers would work together on developing the recipes. “I want everything to be very collective,” she says.
Some of the dishes that made the final cut include duck confit and cassoulets. Ramos, who wants to blend modern trends with the restaurant’s focus on comfort food, also has added gluten-free pancakes and bread as an option for all sandwiches. The bar menu has also been revamped, adding new kinds of beers, sangria, and sparkling cocktails, such as three kinds of Bellinis. The restaurant itself has a fresh look; while the vintage black-and-white photos of Encinitas are still there, local artists also will be showcased monthly thanks to a partnership with . The end result is the culmination of much hard work, Ramos says.
“I could not be more excited,” she says of St. Germain’s new direction. “This is a victory for me and the staff.”