Chef Natalie Ramos, With a Recipe for Cinnamon Rolls

“I love food, cooking and mixing flavors,’ says the Virginia chef, ‘and making people happy through my food’

Natalie and Tiana Ramos
Natalie and Tiana Ramos (photo: Courtesy of Natalie Ramos)

A devout Catholic and passionate chef, Natalie Ramos oversees a very busy catering business, including onsite cooking classes, in Ashburn, Virginia. Called Fleur de Cuisine (“flower of cooking”), the enterprise is headed by Ramos and her talented daughter, Tiana, both of whom have busy days cooking for athletes, politicians, celebrities and locals who yearn for inventive, from-scratch meals to serve friends, family and clients.

Ramos remembers several memorable and super-large events in her culinary past. “The largest party was for 3,000 in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “And I also did a party for José Andrés (famous chef), one for the (NHL) Capitals and one for the (MLB) Nationals.”

What surely makes her meals so enticing is Ramos’ approach to fusion cooking. “I take all my experiences, and play around with them,” she said. “And my background is Caribbean and Southern, so every dish has a Spanish, or Caribbean or Southern flare. That always brings me back to who I know I am with my African American and Caribbean heritage.”

A native of Brooklyn, New York, she noted that her family was Catholic. “I grew up in a hard neighborhood and had a hard life,” she said, noting that her Catholicism and Catholic schooling set her on the right path.

“My Catholic faith today is strong because my father said faith is based on God and understanding his principles,” she said. “I attended St. Lawrence in Brooklyn and went to the Holy Family Catholic school until the eighth grade, and then to Nazareth Regional High School in Brooklyn. All of my schooling was in Catholic schools and where my basis and my love for God came from that. My mom’s side of the family is spiritual, but my dad’s family was more devout.”

Why cooking? Ramos cited two main reasons she chose professional cooking and catering for her career. First, she needed a way to earn a living. Providentially, “one Christmas, a previous boss told me I was in the wrong profession so I went into culinary school and became a chef.”

But next, “I have always loved cooking,” she said. “My love for cooking came because I wanted to eat good food. My dad’s family had good cooks, so the only time to get good food was with his family. … His family was always around food, because he was in the food industry. He was the regional vice president for Horne and Hardart that represented Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

She noted that although her mother was a terrible cook, her father’s mother was “the most amazing cook from the Caribbean. All those aromas — she made very traditional Caribbean cuisine,” she said. She also praises her aunt, her mother’s sister, who had a big Catholic connection and family base. “And that is where I learned my life lessons in regards to family and God. They wanted me to know God, food, family. My aunt Donna is a pillar on my mom’s side. I try to mimic my life like them. I do Sunday dinners and Sundays are always faith-based. It needs to be focused and Sunday nights are family nights for dinner so all families come together.”

“I love food, cooking and mixing flavors and making people happy through my food and even when exhausted and at wit’s end,” she said. 

 

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Mommy’s Cinnamon Rolls (Serves 12)

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” — Isaiah 32:18

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the butter; stir until melted. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture, yeast, white sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour; stir well to combine. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
  3. Divide dough into two pieces. Roll each piece into a 12x9 inch rectangle. In a bowl, stir together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Spread each piece with half of the butter, half of the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough, using a little water to seal the seam.
  4. Cut each roll into 12 slices using a very sharp knife or dental floss. Place rolls onto two 9x13- inch greased baking pans. Cover and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour. 

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

To make frosting; combine confectioner’s sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Add milk gradually until frosting reaches a spreading consistency. Spread over warm (but not hot) cinnamon rolls.

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