I was aware of Tom Ramsey long before I met him. He was the chef I’d heard good things about around town, and the guy that I watched win the premier episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on The Food Network. His list of professional accomplishments has since grown at an impressive clip.
One day on my way to work several years ago, on the same route I’d been driving for what seemed like forever, I noticed a new sign on the big plate glass windows of the space in the corner of the Plaza Building in downtown Jackson. It took me driving by it several times to read it, remember it, and not have an accident while driving by it. Once I could read La Finestra, I thought it was going to be great having a Mexican restaurant that close to my office. (The extent of my knowledge of the Spanish language is obviously deficient.) Of course, it was not Spanish, and my dreams of an all you can eat burrito bar were dashed. But, I liked spaghetti and lasagna, so my disappointment wasn’t significant.
Once I saw that it was open for business, I made it a point to visit as soon as I could to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised upon entering the space that I’d eaten in many times before under several different operators. It was upscale with a strikingly professional waitstaff and the chef that I recognized from TV bouncing around from table to table talking to the patrons. When he visited our table, he was funny, engaging, and made the visit much more comfortable than what I expected from somewhere with cloth napkins and your own fancy bottle of water for the table.
Then on every subsequent visit I made, he, the maitre d’, and the waitstaff remembered me and treated me like their old buddy. Tom and I joked about dressing up in Civil War garb and invading Tupelo with a goat-drawn wagon train and small cannons also pulled by teams of goats for some reason that I can’t remember, now. (I was to be the General, and he the cook.) He introduced me to his wife one day when I came in, and it was obvious by her reaction that he’d mentioned me to her before. We also figured out that he grew up in the neighborhood that I lived in at the time, and spent lots of time at the house across the street with the kids of the great couple who still lived there.
I’m not unaccustomed to being recognized when I go places because there aren’t that many handsome, witty, funny, intelligent guys like me that cruise a wheelchair everywhere they go, but it’s usually the wheelchair that gets me remembered. It was obvious that he didn’t just remember me for the chair when he called me by my first name on my second visit. He was genuine.
I would be remiss to not mention his food. I’ve never had anything he made that wasn’t fantastic. The Sunday brunch with crispy duck and waffles, omelets, and bottomless mimosas and bloody marys, the peaches and prosciutto with balsamic vinegar, and my all-time favorite thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, the ravioli carbonara in sage brown butter are but a few of the things I’ve enjoyed at one of his tables. In short, this guy who makes amazing food is every bit as good of a guy as he is a chef.
A few days ago, I was on the back porch enjoying the warm winter weather while reading a book and contemplating the MDA Muscle Walk fundraiser I’m working to raise funds for. I’d hit a wall with the donations where my humor, wit, empty threats, and pleas for sympathy for the children and those with life-ending variations of muscular dystrophy weren’t working as well anymore, and I started brainstorming for ways to entice people to give to this worthy organization that has been such a valuable resource to me and my family.
I’d worked on silent auctions for MDA in the past and knew how successful they were, so I started running through the contacts file in my head. One of the names that stood out was Tom, and I was hesitant to ask because I have always hated bugging people for money. But, part of my motivation to volunteer for this fundraiser was to push myself to do things I don’t want to do, and you will never get what you want if you don’t ask.
After hemming and hawing for a while, reading and rereading, and holding internal debates, I finally closed my eyes and pushed send on the text message. (Actually, since my eyes were closed and my smartphone doesn’t actually have a physical button to push to send a text, I pushed a lowercase “l.” So, once I opened my eyes and realized what I did, I deleted the “l” and sent the text.) He replied immediately, and we got the details of his generous donation worked out over the next few days.
Tom has donated an in-home cooking class for four people and will be teaching how to make homemade pasta. Then at the end of the class, the pupils will be served the pasta for dinner.
Guys, this would be a great date night for your wife and/or girlfriend(s) or a double date for you two and another couple. You could also take the class by yourself and eat all four plates of pasta by yourself if you’re a really hungry fella.
Ladies, you could pack some crackers and vienna sausages in a plastic grocery sack along with a change of socks and BVDs, send your men-folk to the lake, deer camp, or his mama’s house, and invite your girlfriends over for a fun night together that will end with a great pasta dinner.
No matter how you divvy up the seats in the class, I can guarantee that you will learn a lot, have a great time, and si mangia molto bene. (I think that says that you will eat very well, or it’s supposed to, anyway.)
*** Rules: for every $20 donated to MDA through me, one of my team members, or my team, you will receive 1 entry to win the cooking class. If you would like to purchase a corporate sponsorship, you will receive 5 entries in addition to the ones earned from the cost of the sponsorship, and you can contact me directly for sponsorship information. To be entered in the drawing, donations must be received before 2:00 p.m. on April 29, 2017. The class must be conducted within the metro-Jackson, MS area and scheduling must be coordinated through Mr. Ramsey’s office.