Meet Chef Grace Ramirez, an entrepreneur, a TV director/producer, a cookbook author, and Zacapa Rum Worldwide Ambassador, she is an activist, a dedicated humanitarian, and a global TV personality.
“ I grew up with a big Latin family that loved food and our way of showing our love was through the meals we made. My mother was always very strict with me and she never wanted me to be too spoiled”
Who is Grace Ramirez? Define yourself.
First, I like to always say that defining yourself is a lot more complex than defining who you are work wise. I am above all Grace, a very spiritual being who is very compromised to her growth and cultivating her consciousness. I am completely focused on being the change that I want to see, being the love and choosing to be the best version of myself every day. The work wise I am a Chef. An Entrepreneur, a TV director/producer , a cookbook author, activist, a dedicated humanitarian, and a TV personality.
How were you as a kid?
As a kid, I look back and I would say I was a little bit of a complicated child. I was an only child, first daughter, first granddaughter, first niece. I was born in Miami and when I was 1 years old, my father passed away. After his passing we moved back to Venezuela and I was basically raised by my grandparents because my mother had to work. I grew up around a lot of male cousins, I was very dramatic and girly but at the same time growing up surrounded by male cousins I would say I was a very curious tomboy. I always felt things very deeply which made my curiosity grow. I grew up with a big Latin family that loved food and our way of showing our love was through the meals we made. My mother was always very strict with me and she never wanted me to be too spoiled. I remember that if I complained about what I was eating, she would make me eat that same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I was becoming too spoiled, she would take me to an orphanage and give my toys to kids who were not as privileged. These two things truly shaped who I am today, growing up with a beautiful Latin family that expresses their love through food and a very strict mother who wanted to make sure I always gave back and never grew spoiled.
You are Miami-born, but Venezuela-raised, did that fact shape your life?
I’ve been very privileged to have been brought up like that. I used to work in TV, and I would work from Mexico a lot of time, which shaped me. I refer to myself as the New American girl, because even though I was born in Miami and was raised in between New York City and Miami, living in Venezuela for ten years, and traveled back to South America often. Those travels create a social responsibility in my identity in that I want to celebrate Latin culture through food. Because food in Latin culture is so important, it’s at the center of everything we do. I grew up tasting all these different flavors and learning about all these different cultures. My book La Latina is a culmination of that, and a celebration of the diversity of Latin America. I, of course, could not put all of the Latin dishes into a cookbook of 300 pages, but the book reflects Latin dishes I’ve personally experienced and crave when I visit certain countries/regions.
You started in the culinary industry behind the scenes working for Food Network, where you produced and directed Throwdown with Bobby Flay. How did you jump from that point to becoming a chef?
I fell in love with the hospitality industry and the kitchen with Bobby Flay. I think it takes a certain personality to be a chef and I think it was so me. I completely fell in love, head over heels with the industry. I already had a career and I was very scared to change my comfortable job that I was very good/successful at, but I knew I had to. That led me to joining Master Chef, out of 60,000 people they picked me! Gordon Ramsey advised me to go to culinary school and come back because he saw my passion behind my work. This was really traumatizing for me because I got kicked out of the show, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I decided to go to culinary school, I applied for a scholarship, and I went to the French Culinary Institute. It was now or never, and I knew I had to do it.
“I was born in Miami and was raised in between New York City and Miami, living in Venezuela for ten years, and traveled back to South America often. Those travels create a social responsibility in my identity in that I want to celebrate Latin culture through food”
Did you study something related to gastronomy before or until you earned a scholarship to the French Culinary Institute?
I’ve never studied anything related to gastronomy before going to culinary school. I was just a passionate home cook that loved expressing my love/creativity through food. Cooking was a way for me to honor my heritage and my family. I would call my grandmother for hours to get a recipe and she helped me by telling me what to add, although nothing made sense to me, I tried to figure it out. This was a way for me to remain connected to her.
You were the recipient of the Distinguished Latina Star Award by the Puerto Rican Bar Association for her hurricane relief efforts. You were also featured in Cherrybombe’s 100, celebrating the most influential women in the hospitality industry. You are a judge on the all-new original series, Chef a Domicilio, you host the Discovery en Español GO original short series, De Chuparse los Dedos, you have also appeared on multiple American cooking shows such as Beat Bobby Flay as a judge, Gooey, The Chew, The Dish on Oz, and more. What´s the recipe for your success?
The recipe for success for me is not giving up, being the most enthusiastic cheerleader for myself. It has not been easy to get to where I am today, and it has taken a lot of hard work. I interviewed Jennifer Lopez back when I worked for MTV, and she gave me the most valuable advice I have ever received. She said to me, “don’t believe the stereotype and carry that chip on your shoulder, we are the new American girls, if you keep working hard enough, something will happen.” I took that advice to heart, and I have truly remembered it ever since.
You have published two books The Five-Ingredient Electric Cooker Cookbook and La Latina, where people can purchase them?
I have published two cookbooks on my own and two collaborations with the World’s Best Chefs, the most recent cookbook I’ve worked on is the one I did with Earlene https://www.amazon.com/United-Nations-Cookbook-People-Planet/dp/1641705841
“The recipe for success for me is not giving up, being the most enthusiastic cheerleader for myself. It has not been easy to get to where I am today, and it has taken a lot of hard work”
Tell us more about your role as the Worldwide Ambassador of Zacapa Rum which is considered one of the best and most recognized rums in the world.
It is easy to be a rum lover when you’re from Venezuela because , the country produces such a wide variety of delicious rums. When Venezuela stopped exporting rum because of their socioeconomic and political situation there. Lorena Vasquez was behind the rum, which made me fall in love with this spirit even more.
I had the opportunity to meet you during the fourth edition of the Latin American Fashion Summit (LAFS) In Miami, where Zacapa was one of the sponsors, how was your experience during the event? What did you like most about it?
I love fashion, that is my other passion! I think fashion, similar to food, is an expression of oneself. LAFS is a part of the Act Now campaign, which I worked on with the United Nations. There are some industries where the pollution is extremely high, and I wanted to bring awareness to that issue and bring ideas of sustainability. They decided to focus on fashion as well, and I believe that if there is a space where I can support another female entrepreneur who is up and coming, I love to support and wear their clothes. I truly loved to be a part of it because I was able to see young female entrepreneurs who are thriving in the fashion industry and that truly makes me happy.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
My days are not normal at all, it varies from day to day. I start my day by meditating for an hour, I use the Isha system. I wake up very early and exercise first, and then work all day. I work with the community a lot so normally I would go visit one of our projects and supervise that everything is running smoothly, operations are running, and that the meals are being provided at the right time. I might meet a politician along the way and show him what we are doing for the community, and what our operations consist of. After that, I usually have meetings throughout the day and then from there usually attend a work dinner, event, conference, etc. I wear so many hats and every day I have to switch over to a new role whether that is Grace the Chef, or Grace the Activist, or Grace the TV Personality and the list goes on and on.
“Giving back is an essential part of who I am. I grew up very privileged in Venezuela, and then we lost everything. I think it’s essential to give back and especially if you’re in a position of power as a chef or a communicator”
Do you have any particular philosophy that guides your career decisions?
First and foremost, my heart and my gut, I am very hyper sensitive to energy! I guide a lot of my decisions with that but I do filter everything through my core values. Those core values come from what my business and I stand for. If something does not align with those core values then it is truly a hard no, I am not interested. I have declined a lot of brands and projects because of that and it is okay because even if the process does take longer it is extremely important to me that what I am doing represents what I stand for. I always advise the younger generations that you need to have four core values that are going to be the foundation for your building.
You are a very busy woman and still, you work with World Central Kitchen, helping them provide people in need with meals during difficult times, also during the COVID-19 pandemic, over 2. 5 million meals in total, 100,000 meals were distributed daily to frontline workers in New York, and people in need, across the five boroughs. Throughout this initiative, the organization has helped prevent over 250 restaurants in NY from closing due to the pandemic. Thanks to these efforts The City of New York, has recognized you as a Covid-19 hero, what does it drive you? How do you feel after receiving this recognition?
Giving back is an essential part of who I am. I grew up very privileged in Venezuela, and then we lost everything. Being a chef and a communicator, I feel a social and moral responsibility to give back to my community.
I can’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on around me. I believe we have to be the change that we want to see in the world. My mother would take me to orphanages and hospitals growing up to donate OUR time or supplies. That changes you, shapes you, and makes you aware of your privilege. Supporting World Central Kitchen, The Humans Who Feed Us, this is About Humanity, Wellness in The Schools, and the different Garden to Table programs are an essential part of who I am.
Now with the issue of sustainability, you have also expressed your concern to share your knowledge in this area through programs and actions such as "Act Now", launched by the United Nations Organization, can you give us more details about those initiatives?
I am a chef partner with the United Nations supporting the Act Now campaign and the Chef’s Manifesto. I enjoy living and teaching how to live sustainably in the food industry by being a conscious consumer, no single-use plastic, buy seasonal and sustainable products.
The Act Now campaign is about taking responsibility and understanding that small changes can make a big difference. The purpose is sharing that we all have the power to make more conscious choices that can truly make the difference in the trajectory of our children’s future. This is the time, education is key, and we all need to lead by example.
Our plan for Chef’s Manifesto is divided in 8 simple mindful actions:
1: ingredients grown with respect for the earth and its oceans, 2: protection of biodiversity and improved animal welfare, 3: investment in livelihoods, 4: value natural resources and reduce waste, 5: celebration of local and seasonal food, 6: a focus on plant-based ingredients, 7: education on food safety and healthy diets, 8: nutritious food that is accessible and affordable for all.
We did a series of videos that show hacks about how to make sustainability more fun and accessible to all.
What does it inspire you to cook?
We need to add this about La Latina Cocina and Wellness in The Schools because otherwise it comes out of nowhere. It’s also about bringing proper representation into schools and universities around the country with La Latina Cocina in conjunction with Aramark and Wellness In The Schools . When I get messages from students saying that my food reminds them of home, that they feel nurtured, loved, and represented, that's fuel for my soul.
What do you love most about your job? & What is the most difficult part?
I remember going to culinary school, the first time I put a chef's coat on I felt a sense of belonging. I love everything about the culinary and hospitality industry. However, I feel as if I’m walking through the everglades every single day. It’s very challenging to be a Latino woman in this industry, trying to bring proper representation, try to do TV shows, cookbooks, change policies, educate, and inspire, all at the same time.
But knowing that we are breaking walls and paving the way for other women to have opportunities makes me want to keep going.
“We do have a choice as chefs and consumers as to who we buy from, I like to call it cocina consciente. We have the power to decide at every moment to do the right thing, and every small purchase from a small consumer makes a difference”
What is one strategy that has helped you to grow in your professional career?
I submitted and put myself through a 6-month meditation retreat called the Isha’s system and that has been life changing for me. That process taught me that the universe is a mirror and that it all comes from within. So that strength also taught me to let go of the victim mentality and made me realize that I’m the creator and responsible of my own destiny, that every single day we will be faced with many challenges, but life and joy comes from perspective. We must learn to focus on what is right and choose joy in every moment.
Happiness is not a destination; it is a journey. And we must always keep in mind that abundance comes from the act of giving.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I love to meditate, do yoga, exercise, and spend time with people I love.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life, and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, I don´t know if you are married and have kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I think everyone is different and the problem we face in society is that people just want to place people in boxes and I don’t think having children or getting married is for everyone and that is okay.
I think we need to be true to what we want and do it. In my case, I will continue to have multiple businesses including a social franchise, opening more La Latina Cocina around the nation and keep doing what I’m doing.
However, having a family is a priority and very important to me.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
The Latina Equal Pay movement with Monica Ramirez and crew it’s about raising awareness and trying to change policies around this issue. I just spoke at the Senate about this matter.
For Latinas, it takes an average of 23 months to be paid what white, male non-Hispanic workers were paid in 12 months.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become a chef like you?
I am a clear example of dream big, work hard, follow your dreams and everything will come together. I’ve always been a big dreamer with big aspirations, but hard work was always at the backbone of everything.
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are, and what do you are (professionally) are, with this idea in mind, what is being Grace and what´s not?
People only see the glam part of my life, but most people don’t know that most of my family still lives in Venezuela and I support them, that I have many close friends and family members battling serious illnesses, all the challenges I face every day and how hard I work. As a matter of fact, most of my interns or assistants think they want my life until they see what it is to have my life, I work all the time even when people think I'm not, I am. And then they say, “I don’t think I want this life”. They see all the sacrifices I make and how hard I work.
I’m trying very hard to have a more balanced life where I’m just not constantly working.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
Michelle Obama.Despite being the first lady and wife of the president, she has been able to create her own brand, maintain her authenticity and inspire millions of women across the world.
“Happiness is not a destination; it is a journey. And we must always keep in mind that abundance comes from the act of giving”
What else do you want to add or share with us?
We just launched a cookbook in collaboration with Kitchen Connections and the United Nations. I’ve designed a munch mailbox that has sustainable products Venezuelan chocolate and coffee. Munch-mail box
I’m proud to say that I’m the only female Latina mentioned on the cover and I’m in great company of some of the world’s best chefs, including chef José Andrés, Virgilio Martínez and Massimo Bottura.
I also teamed up with wellness in the schools and we got appointed by the major to be part of the chef’s council for the city of New York to bring healthier and more culturally appropriate food into the NYC school system.
Name: Grace Ramirez
Country: Venezuela/ USA