Pushing Boundaries One Plate at a Time at Calvin College

Since he was 15, Ian Ramirez has been in a kitchen. Like most chefs, he is passionate about his work, constantly pursuing his craft and pushing his creativity. As Executive Chef at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ramirez oversees a team that uses local, fresh ingredients in the dining halls, and he even develops dining hall concepts for his employer Creative Dining Services, infusing different options for students.

As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Ramirez also creates unique dishes for conferences and special events for Calvin College and leads a culinary club for students in his spare time. His enthusiasm goes beyond his kitchen, as he shares his culinary expertise and passion with the community.

“The hard part of the job is that you have to be willing and able to put in the hours and time,”
— Ian Ramirez, executive chef at Calvin College

“If you can do that, then everything else comes pretty easy," he said. "Because nobody is really fighting you on trying to make better food. But if you’re going to do that, you have to make it happen yourself."

Pushing Institutional Boundaries

After spending several years working in restaurants, Ramirez moved into the institutional setting, finding a better work/life balance while maintaining his ability to explore his creativity. Calvin College is a liberal arts college with more than 4,000 students with big appetites. During any given week, Ramirez oversees a team of production managers and team leads who serve about 2,700 people close to 23,000 meals in the two dining halls on campus.

Partial to using fresh ingredients, Ramirez develops meal plans based around what is in season when possible, using locally sourced ingredients and even those produced from a student garden for his kitchens.

As part of his work for Creative Dining Services, Ramirez also creates concept meal stations for Calvin College’s dining halls, tracking all costs down to the penny in order for it to be replicated at other institutions. Several of his concepts have been chosen to become a part of the Creative Dining Services’ offerings to its network of colleges and universities. Creating everything from the recipes to the uniforms to the logo design, Ramirez finds this a fun challenge.

Whether he’s exploring a fresh approach to Mexican or the perfect expression of the quintessentially college dish with his dashi ramen bar concept, Ramirez uses his creativity to provide a better culinary experience for students.

Finding Inspiration

This seasoned chef shares his passion for cooking beyond the dining halls at Calvin College. Working with the Culinary Club, a student organization, Ramirez spends his Saturdays teaching students how to create cheese, pasta and bacon from scratch. In these classes, Ramirez not only teaches students how to create a particular type of food, but also stacks the classes so that each item the students make can be used with the item they’ll create in the next class. For example, the aged cheese can be used with the pasta.

“I’ll come in here on my day off with my sous chef and get together with the kids. We just do it for fun.”
— Ramirez

Chef Ramirez also expresses his creativity with flavors, ideas and food trends for the largest portion of his position as Executive Chef: Creating plated, up-scale cuisine for special events and conferences. Each January, Calvin College hosts the January Series featuring high-profile speakers in which the chef creates unique meal plans for the speaker and attendees for 15 days straight. Each meal must be different, allowing Ramirez to flex his creativity and bring his energy to the event.

During one memorable January Series meal, Ramirez drew inspiration from his first trip to Iceland. As he walked the mossy ground, the chef decided that he would create a meal to capture the beauty and energy of the countryside he saw. With a meal that included “soil” made from Scandinavian rye bread crumbs that had been sautéed with onions and bacon and a main course of char with parsley, rosemary and thyme, the dinner was a resounding success. Ramirez even ended the meal with a yogurt dessert atop dry ice that arrived at the tables smoking, in honor of the geothermal activity of the country that inspired him, adding even more to the culinary experience.


Creating with KitchenAid

For all his roles, Ramirez needs tools that are dependable and versatile enough to keep up. The detailed and often locally sourced meals his dining halls present also need tools that they can depend on. For Ramirez, using the KitchenAid Commercial products helps both him and his team bring his ideas to life.

As he demonstrates his cooking to students or whips through a batch of sauce for his latest conference, Ramirez counts on the KitchenAid® Commercial Stand Mixer.

“It’s pretty rare when I’m not using it because it’s so versatile. A lot of the higher-end meals I make are usually for no more than 40 people.”
— Ramirez

“It’s pretty rare when I’m not using it because it’s so versatile. A lot of the higher-end meals I make are usually for no more than 40 people,” Ramirez said. “I have a huge floor mixer that’s as tall as I am, but you can’t use that on these small parties. It’s perfect for making different types of garnishes and sauces.”

Through his work in the dining halls, during special events, and with Calvin College students, Chef Ramirez enthusiastically shares his passion, no matter what day of the week. With the hard-working, versatile tools from KitchenAid Commercial, there is no stopping Ramirez as he explores his creativity and provides his community unique culinary experiences.

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