Some practice rigorously before trying their hand at a new craft, while others dive in and learn along the way. Jordan Ramirez, whose endeavors include the popular Chow Yum Phat and the new Zee Zee’s nextdoor, leans toward the latter sect.
Ramirez was never formally taught to cook. In fact, he can’t quite say he fully knew the craft when he got his first job in a kitchen about a decade ago as the specialty section manager overseeing beer, wine, cheese and more at Whole Foods. There, he developed and nurtured his fascination for food, eventually captaining a pop-up dinner series at the grocer.
“I had an interest in different ingredients,” he says. “I would basically just find an ingredient, go online and learn how to cook with it.”
Thus began his autodidactic scavenger-hunt of a culinary education. But it took some bouncing around before Ramirez really found his footing.
After more than six years at Whole Foods came a rapid spate of projects: a hot sauce line, a short but impactful butchering stint at Iverstine Farms Butcher and a pop-up supper club series under his personal brand, Southern Wild.
It was through the pop-up series that Ramirez reconnected with Chow Yum Phat cofounder Vu “Phat” Le. The duo quickly got to kicking around ideas for a collaboration, eventually opening Chow Yum Phat in 2018 inside the now-shuttered White Star Market.
Since then, the restaurant (now operating out of its Perkins Road Overpass brick-and-mortar) has become nothing short of a local institution, a frequent Best of 225 Awards winner celebrated for everything from its bao to its birria tacos special.
“It’s more of a world view on Asian food,” Ramirez says of the concept. “As far as flavors and foods, (we’re) not trying to hold it to anything traditional.”
Ramirez’s next venture came at the perfect juncture. The new Zee Zee’s, which opened in December 2022, was highly anticipated because it pays homage to two of the overpass area’s dearly departed food spots and bars. Ramirez and other partners pulled off a cross-generational reimagining of the old Zee Zee Gardens inside the former location of George’s.
For Ramirez, Zee Zee’s presents a new challenge: simple food. Never one to think inside the box, he’s had to adapt to culinary confines—making the food people expect to find at a neighborhood bar and grill while sneaking in subtle spikes of Southern flair and creativity.
Currently, Ramirez splits his time overseeing the neighboring restaurants. Looking to the future, though, he’s eyeing an expansion of the Chow umbrella with a new location.
Still, Ramirez remains wary of rigid, long-term plans.
“The biggest thing I learned is waiting for the right time and the right location and the right situation to present itself, as opposed to just swinging for something,” he says.
Given his recent successes, there’s little reason to believe he’d miss.
This article was originally published in the April 2023 issue of 225 magazine.