Alejandra Ramos Trusts Her Own Taste

"When we trust our taste over the rules, that’s how you get the best dishes."

The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. In 2008, Alejandra Ramos was working in magazines and started developing recipes for her food blog as a creative outlet. Today, she is a writer, Today show contributor, and TV host. She is also the host of PBS’s The Great American Recipe, set to air in the summer of 2022. We joined her in her Washington Heights kitchen to make brothy clams in Dutch Baby, and talk about why she’s a proud “salt girl” and why cooking and sharing go hand in hand for her.

I always say I learned to cook because I love to eat. Growing up, my mom was a really great cook, but it wasn’t her thing. My dad and I loved going out to eat and trying new restaurants. Eventually, I realized if there was ever a dish I wanted to try, I could just make it. I didn’t have to wait until we went to a restaurant or wait for my mom to make it. I started to go through our cookbooks and make whatever was my favorite dish at the time.

Cooking without the sharing or entertaining part is not as fun for me.

 

In high school I started throwing elaborate dinner parties for friends, and in college I would skip class to cook in our dorm kitchens for my friends. During college, my mom suggested I go to culinary school, so, instead of doing a study-abroad program, I went to a culinary program in Italy. Still, I definitely think I’ve learned the most just by being in my own kitchen.

I was working in magazines when I started a blog on the side. I always wanted to write, and I was working as an international editions editor for Cosmopolitan but kept trying to get more into the food world, and I wasn’t getting the jobs I wanted. So I started my blog on my own as my creative outlet. It was 2008, so the influencer and blogger world wasn’t such a viable option back then. But my blog kind of blew up, and I ended up quitting magazines and started focusing on food.

This is the sweet spot of everything I love.

The magazine I had worked for asked me to create recipes for them and eventually present them on television, and once I was on TV cooking, I was like, Oh wait, this is the sweet spot of everything I love. I get to share and talk and teach while cooking, but it’s still very much an entertaining, fun way of doing it. I’m still figuring it out, still figuring out how I can keep sharing. Cooking without the sharing or entertaining part is not as fun for me.

There are hundreds of versions of what American food is.

 

Next, I’m hosting a show for PBS that comes out summer of 2022 called The Great American Recipe. It’s a cooking competition show, but it’s very joyful and uplifting. It features cooks from all around the country, and the idea is about celebrating all of the diversity of what American food really is. Because the truth is there are hundreds of versions of what American food is, especially for those of us who come from immigrant backgrounds.

 Salt is what wakes up food; that’s what turns on the lights.

 

When it comes to cooking, I love to be creative, and I love when things go wrong. It’s this opportunity to create something new — or maybe not! Maybe it just goes in the trash, but it’s an opportunity to do something unexpected. I am very heavy-handed with my seasoning, especially salt. I’m a salt girl — I love salt. I can be a little wild with it sometimes, but I think a lot of home cooks undersalt, and salt is what wakes up food; that’s what turns on the lights.

There are times when I go overboard. I once was roasting some vegetables, and they were beautifully charred but inedibly salty. So I added canned cannellini beans and turned it into this warm bean salad with these end-of-summer veggies like tomato and fennel, and it was great because it all balanced out. That became a dish I cooked regularly.

When we trust our taste over the rules, that’s how you get the best dishes.

 

I’m extra and I like the flavors to be very bold, but I really don’t like fussy food. I just don’t have the patience for that. I want to make it and get right to the eating-and-enjoying part. Because I create recipes for a living, I actually don’t love recipes. I love for things to be loose and messy, and I want people to experiment and break rules — to swap out ingredients and really learn. I think that’s how you learn and gain confidence. When we trust our taste over the rules, that’s how you get the best dishes.

It’s also a way of sharing yourself. It’s like saying, “Here, this is me on a plate.”

 

When I make food, I cook for my taste. Even when I’m entertaining or cooking for friends, I’m always cooking for myself because that’s the taste that I trust and I know. So I do things the way I like them and the ingredients I like. It’s also a way of sharing yourself. It’s like saying, “Here, this is me on a plate.”

During the pandemic all of my shoots were canceled, and it was actually a very creative period for me, food-wise, because I was doing it just for myself. There were no other factors like SEO, ingredient lists, or themes. I was just making whatever I wanted. It felt like a great moment to get back to cooking what I genuinely love without outside influences. I made a lot of seafood, like razor clams and langoustines. I started getting oysters and shucking them all the time at home.

Chorizo is probably my favorite ingredient in the whole world.

 

Today I went back to seafood. I made brothy clams with chorizo, and that’s absolutely one of my favorite, go-to dishes. I make them probably once a week. I love the flavors. When I cook I’m either excited about an ingredient or a technique. There’s always that initial seed that gets me into the kitchen, and chorizo is probably my favorite ingredient in the whole world. I love it in combination with seafood, especially clams or mussels.It’s one of those dishes that you have to have crusty bread on the side.

Everything comes together so quickly. You just sautée the chorizo with onions and garlic. Sometimes I’ll throw in vermouth or white wine — whatever is around — and it creates a beautiful broth that you just add clams to. I love it for casual entertaining. You sit around the table and dig the clams out, and it’s one of those dishes that you have to have crusty bread on the side.

This time I made toasts with these beautiful pickled anchovies and roasted red peppers. Again, just celebrating really good ingredients, fun flavors, and letting them shine.

You can tell everything is made by people who cook and love being in the kitchen.

For the clams I used Dutch Baby — it’s so cute. I have The Dutchess in Taffy, so I love that now I have the complete family. It has this beautiful texture and weight to it. I also love that it’s great to cook with and also for when you want to bring it out to the table. I also have Holy Sheet and Little Sheet in Raspberry. They’re the most beautiful sheet pans on this earth. I love for everything in my kitchen to be beautiful and as gorgeous to look at as it is to cook with. You can tell everything is made by people who cook and love being in the kitchen.

Dutch Baby is such a perfect size when you’re cooking for a few people, but it actually holds so much more than I expected.

Photos by Liz Clayman.

Alejandra's Go-To Designs

Dutch Baby
3.5-Quart Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
$120
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The Whole Grain Family
3-Piece Wooden Utensil Set
$75
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Little Sheet
Two Ceramic Nonstick Quarter-Sheet Pans
$45
Shop Now