When the number of siblings in the family matches the number of days in a week, it’s natural that each kid would be assigned one day to cook family dinner. Chef Santiago Ramos, Executive Chef of Little America’s dining outlets and catering, was lucky number seven in this family and, therefore, shared his assigned day to cook with his mom. This shared weekly ritual was Chef Ramos’ first influential lesson in cooking. While his six older sisters were mostly indifferent to the chore of their meal day, Chef Ramos relished these moments with his mom. He watched carefully as she prepared each meal with natural improvisation. There was something special in the unique way she added pinches and dashes to a dish, following an unwritten recipe she knew by heart. He remembers the way she rolled the dough for her chicken pot pies, unlike anything he’d seen before or since. Following his mom’s lead, developing this sixth sense for cooking has come in handy throughout Chef Ramos’ career, but even more so now that he is tasked with keeping and deeply understanding the treasured recipes of Little America’s well-loved culinary repertoire by heart.
From Vegas Casinos to Salt Lake’s Great Tradition
When Chef Ramos went to culinary school, it was years before the onset of the glamorized, “rockstar” status chefs enjoy today. In fact, when he started his first classes, he remembers one of sisters reached out to ask: “what are you doing?” While the work was considered non-traditional, and perhaps a little thankless, he took the leap and followed what he knew he was passionate about. After graduation, he jumped into the Las Vegas restaurant and casino scene. In 1994, he started at the Rio Hotel and Casino, where he stayed until 2004 when Little America’s former Executive Chef Gotz invited him to join the team in Salt Lake City. Unfamiliar with Utah, he was initially unsure about the opportunity, but he decided to take a chance, and found he enjoyed the comparative calm that came with the big-little city and the culture in and around Little America’s kitchens.
Since then, he’s worn many hats in the kitchens at Little America, next door at The Grand America, and at our sister Little America Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the end of last year, his mentor, Chef Gotz, officially retired and Chef Ramos took over the role of Executive Chef for Little America Salt Lake. In this leadership role, it’s now his job to protect beloved recipes and age-old traditions that keep Little America’s restaurants at the center of Salt Lake’s culinary history and identity. In both on-property restaurants, Lucky H Buffet and The Coffee Shop, and for every special event served by the catering team, Chef Ramos makes sure that the same made-from-scratch flavors are delivered to locals and guests each and every visit.
The Secret Ingredient
There’s a lot of opinions that circulate about what exactly makes Little America’s restaurants so special and well-loved. Some insist it’s the way the Turkey Dinner is prepared in The Coffee Shop, others have suggested it’s due to the fact that the dinner rolls are still made in the same dough mixer for more than 50 years (they did at one time purchase an updated mixer–but the rolls were not the same).
But Chef Ramos is emphatic that the true secret to Little America’s continued place in Utah’s food scene comes ultimately down to the people. It’s the reason NBA players have been known to dine-in whenever they’re in town and request their favorite servers, and, likewise, the reason so many of the servers have remained at Little America for upwards of 30 years. It is impressive that roughly 1,400 dinner rolls are served each day and that 200-250 lbs of turkey go into making so many Turkey Dinner specials daily, but the real reason the community of locals and visitors keep coming back is for the way the people make them feel–at home. And this is where Chef Ramos feels honored to be–upholding a legacy that means so much to a community that he himself now also loves to call home.
Come experience the Little differences firsthand! Dine at Luck H Buffet & The Coffee Shop, relax by the outdoor pool, & unwind in the most spacious guest rooms in downtown Salt Lake. Plus, book you stay direct & receive 10% off!