Meet the Unstoppable Chef Misael Ramirez
by Brian Wubbena, Director of Culinary
Misael is one of the kindest and most diligent human beings that I’ve ever met. It’s an absolute pleasure to work with him. His passion is unmatched, and as we talk about his story you’ll understand why.
Chef Ramirez grew up on a small ranch in El Salvador with his parents and seven younger siblings. They didn’t have electricity or running water, so they used candlelight, cooked over a wood fire and used the river to bathe. School wasn’t something that everyone did but, at age six, Misael was determined to educate himself, better his life and help his family. After doing his chores in the morning, Chef would wash up in the river and walk to school.
The hard work was a necessity. Misael’s father left to work in the United States when he was eleven, so he left school to provide for his family. This meant literally praying for rain so that the crops would grow, working the fields if they did grow and gathering wood to sell in his nearby town. His father never returned home or sent money so the responsibility rested firmly on his shoulders.
As if all the above wasn’t tough enough, civil war broke out in his country. Both the government and the militia were actively trying to recruit young men by any means necessary – including kidnapping. There were many times Misael had to run and hide to avoid being “drafted.” At sixteen, the situation was so dire that his mother told him that he needed to flee to the United States. Making the trip required a coyote and typically cost thousands of dollars. Chef doesn’t know how his mother came up with the money, but she did. With the coyote paid, he was off with the plan to go to Houston.
Misael chose Houston because, although he hadn’t heard from his father, it was rumored that he was in Houston. The trek took over a month with traveling sometimes by car but more often by foot. Everyone crossed the Arizona border to a safe house, stayed overnight and began to leave. Misael could not. He was in a completely foreign land and had no money to get to Houston. The family who owned the house tried to contact his father through their extensive list of contacts to no avail. When they told him, the reality set in. In Misael’s own words, he became very scared and began to cry. He didn’t know how to physically use a phone, let alone survive in the United States.
His host family allowed him to stay with them, and eventually they even came up with the money to fly him to Houston. The story with his father is very personal, but he did find him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the welcome that he deserved and, once again, Misael was forced to find a way to provide for himself. He landed a job cleaning overnight at a gas station for the criminal wages of $20 a day.
During the Bush presidency, refugees from El Salvador were granted amnesty and luckily, Misael qualified. This allowed him to seek employment in restaurants which all his friends suggested. They helped him fill out applications since he didn’t know how. Although he couldn’t find a job cooking due to his lack of experience, he was able to find a job as an overnight dishwasher.
Misael learned that the 24-hour diner was slow between 4:00 and 7:00 AM so he used that time to learn how to do prep work. When the owner realized that he was doing the extra work, he grabbed him by the hand, pulled him to the line and told him that he was going to learn how to cook. From that moment, a star was born. Chef absorbed every single bit of knowledge that he possibly could. He couldn’t read English so he couldn’t read the kitchen tickets. Instead, he noticed that every item had a different price on the menu and memorized the pricing. After five years in a diner, he applied to Pappasito’s. There were a whole lot of roadblocks to get hired, but I’ll save those stories for the movie script. Let’s just say that he did a fantastic job and worked there for eleven years.
Chef Misael found himself working a second job at a large hotel in downtown Houston where he met a fellow cook currently enrolled in culinary school. This co-worker described food as art and a light bulb went off in Chef’s head. For the first time, he realized that cooking was his passion. It was more than a job – it was a calling and a career.
Misael came to Truluck’s on a friend’s suggestion. He started as a lunch cook, and I can remember when the former Chef called me to sing his praises and say that Misael would be a future Chef for us. He was 100% correct. Misael dedicated everything he had to learning every aspect of our kitchens. He learned the technique, the terminology, took English classes, and more. When the opportunity presented itself, he became our forever Chef.
Misael shared, “I’ve never had the opportunity to work as we do. We work as a family. I appreciate everything so much and, if you will have me, I never want to leave. What’s special to me is that the United States gave me the opportunity and gave me a chance.”
Misael Ramirez is truly one of a kind and we’re so blessed to have him on our team. As I said earlier, I’ve never met a kinder, more hard-working human being. He’s a dedicated father, husband, and Chef.
Next time you’re in Houston, visit Truluck’s and experience Chef Misael’s masterpieces. Your table is waiting.