Neck Ties to Chef’s Knives: Tom Ramsey

April / May 2013
Article and photos

Vicksburg native and chef Tom Ramsey began his career in an unlikely place.  He didn’t start out bussing tables as a teenager or prepping ingredients and taking orders as a young chef fresh out of culinary school.  In fact, up until three years ago, Tom Ramsey worked as an investment banker.  So how to you make the leap from carrying a briefcase to wielding a chef’s knife?

“My passion is cooking.  I was always looking for the opportunity to make a really dramatic career change, but it never really made sense to do it,” Ramsey said.

The pivotal moment came one night as Ramsey and his wife were watching the Food Network.  Ramey’s wife asked if he would rather be cooking to which Ramsey revealed that he would.

“We talked about the financial hardships we might face with moving from a professional career to just
starting over as a cook in my forties,” he recalls.  “We made a decision together to do it and we haven’t looked back since.”

Ramsey worked as a caterer for a short period of time before becoming the chef and sommelier at Underground 119, a modern and stylish jazz club and restaurant which opened in 2009 in the basement
of the Old Elks Club Building at 119 South President Street in downtown Jackson.  The venue frequently hosts live jazz, bluegrass, and rock & roll acts while the menu features a selection of tapas and fresh Gulf seafood.  Ramsey admits his career move came with obvious changes.

“In investment banking we might do four deals in a year.  For three months at a time, you eat, drink, and sleep that deal.  You go to bed with it at night; you wake up with it in the morning.  It’s constantly on your mind.  You work it out in little increments and you work on this one project for forever,” Ramsey explains.  “In the restaurant business, it’s very volatile.  There is a lot less finesse and a lot more making decisions in the moment and then dealing with the consequences.  But at the end of the night, it’s done and you walk away from it and go home.  It starts all over again the next day, but it doesn’t carry over.”

Taking such a huge leap in his career was challenging in the beginning.  “It was really baptism by fire running my own kitchen at first,” he admits.  However, he credits his fellow chefs as his inspiration and motivation for diving headfirst into Jackson’s restaurant scene.  “ I’ve learned more from friends of mine who are chefs than anywhere else.  Guys like Dan Blumenthal, Derrick Emerson, Jesse Houston, Mike Wallace, and the late Craig Noone.  Guys who are really good friends of mine and they’ve put up with me working with them on different projects. ”

Ramsey’s passion for cooking has led to both radio and television appearances.  Most recently he hosted “Southern Comfort Redux,” Jackson’s first dinner held to benefit the James Beard Foundation, with six other chefs from Mississippi.  He has also been invited to participate in Beard on Books, a monthly literary series held at the James Beard House in New York City that features readings and discussions by chefs and authors all over the world.  Ramsey plans to share some of his own writing and discuss the food culture in Mississippi.

Underground 119
119 S. President Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201
(601) 352-2322

Tuesday 5 p.m.-11p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.