Carl Ruiz was a beloved celebrity chef and owner of the New York restaurant La Cubana who has died at the age of 44. His friends confirmed is death on social media on Sunday, September 22. Ruiz was found dead after apparently suffering a heart attack in his sleep, his friends say.
Ruiz was a fixture of the New York and New Jersey culinary crowd and was featured often on The Food Network and elsewhere in the media, including in The New York Times, the Cooking Channel, ESPN, Opie Radio and on his own Sirius XM Radio interview show, according to his restaurant’s website. He opened La Cubana in New York City’s Meatpacking district in June 2019 to pay tribute to his Cuban roots.
La Cubana confirmed Ruiz’s death in an Instagram post.
“On behalf of the La Cubana family, with heavy hearts, we are deeply saddened to share the passing of our beloved Executive Chef Carl Ruiz. No words can fully express our sadness at the sudden loss of our dear friend and brother. Beyond his immense culinary talent, Carl’s larger-than-life personality never failed to entertain, enlighten, and uplift every person he encountered along his #Ruizing adventures,” a post from the La Cubana staff said. “His fierce intellect and infectious humor knew no bounds. He was a mighty force of down home Cuban cuisine, and lived life to the fullest, just as he cooked—with “dancing always” as the most important ingredient. Here at La Cubana, Carl paid proud tribute to his Cuban roots each night, and it is here that Carl’s legacy, undeniable spirit and passion for his culture will live on. We hope we make you proud, Carlito.”
The restaurant added, “To honor the work you loved so much Chef, La Cubana will continue your work in establishing The Carl Ruiz Scholarship Foundation for aspiring chefs. We love you! You are already missed. Rest easy.”
Ruiz was known beyond New York City from his appearances on TV and elsewhere.
“His frequent appearances on The Food Network — both as a competitive chef champion and celebrity judge — have cemented this Cuban chef sensation as a household name,” his website says. “Whether he is cooking up Cuban delicacies like Fufu or the classic Elena Ruz Sandwich, offering sage advice to up-and-coming chefs, or critiquing show contestants’ finer points of culinary execution, everyone is bound to walk away learning something new.”
His friend, Matt Farah, wrote on Instagram that Ruiz, “passed peacefully in his sleep of a suspected heart attack at just 44 years old. I’m absolutely gutted.”
Tributes to Ruiz have poured in on social media from his friends and fans in the food and entertainment worlds.
“I’m heartbroken that my friend chef Carl Ruiz is gone. I have no words to describe what a great friend he was to me and my family. His ability to make me laugh and smile under any circumstances was only outshined by his talent as a chef,” Guy Fieri wrote on Twitter. “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of great people but a friend like Carl is one in a hundred million. Carl ‘The Cuban’ Ruiz will forever live on in my heart and in those of all who loved him.”
Ruiz’s former restaurant in New Jersey was featured by Fieri on his Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” in 2013.
Here’s what you need to know about Chef Carl Ruiz and his tragic death:
1. Ruiz, Who Graduated From the Institute of Culinary Education, Owned an Italian Restaurant in New Jersey With His Ex-Wife & Worked at Restaurants Around the World
Chef Carl Ruiz previously owned Marie’s Italian Specialities in New Jersey with his ex-wife, Marie Riccio. He worked for more than 25 years in the food and restaurant industry and was a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Ruiz’s website says, “Carl Ruiz is an acclaimed chef, consultant, and magnetic media personality whose down-home persona never fails to entertain, educate, and uplift. Throughout his prolific 25+ years in the food & restaurant industry, he’s opened restaurants all over the globe, built a successful television and radio career, and headlined world-famous culinary events — and with his well-earned insights, become the ‘secret weapon’ to success for many other star chefs along the way.”
According to The New York Times, Ruiz has worked at restaurants around the world, including as a chef on Prince Edward’s Island in Canada. He and his ex-wife opened Marie’s Italian Specialties in Chatham, New Jersey, in 2011, according to The Times.
“It’s not eating-fava-beans-in-flip-flops-in-Tuscany Italian. It’s American Italian. It’s lay-down-on-your-couch-for-three-hours-afterward Italian,” he told the newspaper in 2014. He and his wife shared the cooking duties equally. “My wife is Sicilian,” he told The Times. “If the place wasn’t called Marie’s, I’d be in trouble.” After the couple divorced, Riccio took over the restaurant.
Ruiz was previously the executive chef at Sabor in Bergen County, New Jersey, and at Cuban Pete’s in Montclair, New Jersey.
2. He Opened La Cubana in June to Bring a ‘Havana-Inspired Experience’ to New York City
Ruiz had only recently opened his Cuban restaurant in New York City, according to the restaurant’s website. “Paying tribute to his Cuban roots, Carl Ruiz’s latest restaurant venture, La Cubana, open June 2019 in NYC’s Meatpacking district, is a vibrant new dining destination where authentic Cuban cuisine, vintage cocktails, and live Latin music set the stage for a colorful, old-world Havana-inspired experience. In addition to serving dinner, La Cubana will also host a signature Cuban brunch each weekend,” the website says.
Ruiz told Diced, the online magazine for his culinary school alma mater, “The menu’s a mixture of my favorites growing up that my mom and grandmother would make and stuff that I picked up in Miami and Orlando, some old-school dishes that were disappearing. The traditional stuff is really satisfying to make.”
Before opening his Italian restaurant, Ruiz had previously given a Cuban eatery a go, but closed it 15 years ago, he told Diced, after he was priced out by a raise in rent.
“I think time and experience make a difference,” he said in the June 2019 interview. “Every restaurant has its own personality. This one is a little bit more Cuban. Cooking techniques have advanced in the last 15 years. Things taste better with the quality of products and quality of purveyors today and access to international products. It’s a lot easier than it was.”
3. Ruiz ‘Angered’ Florida Residents by Once Declaring the Best Cuban Sandwich in the World to Be Made at a New Jersey Restaurant
Ruiz set off a bit of a firestorm in 2018 when he declared the best Cuban sandwich in the world to be made at a New Jersey restaurant, which set off a funny feud with Florida residents who said that was not possible. Ruiz, an evangelist for the sandwich, did what he always did, he used the viral story to draw attention to the food he loved.
The Cuban sandwich Ruiz spotlighted was at La Pola in West New York, New Jersey. He told News 12, “I didn’t believe myself that the best Cuban sandwich could be from New Jersey. But it is. I got a tweet from the mayor of Tampa telling me absolutely ‘No way.’Then from the mayor of St. Petersburg, and I’m like ‘Oh my God. What did I do?’”
He added, “It’s hipster proof…There’s nobody with a handlebar mustache, no knife and fork tattoos, no nothing. This is just the same way they started making it in 1960 until now. It’s perfect.”
4. He Started a YouTube Series — Omg Carl’s Food Show — Where He Would Review Fast Food & Fast Casual Chain Restaurants
Along with his restaurant, Ruiz also spent time on a YouTube series, “Omg Carl’s Food Show,” where he would review fast food and fast-casual chain restaurants.
Ruiz had become a well-known media personality in the food world.
“Carl also made a name for himself on Sirius XM Radio interviewing some of today’s most talented and insightful chefs, and dropping his own culinary knowledge with an equal dose of truth and comedy, whether he was debunking a food trend or sharing a recipe. Today, Carl can be heard regularly podcasting on Westwood One,” his website said.
Along with his appearance on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with his ex-wife, Ruiz was also on Fieri’s “Guy’s Grocery Games” as a contestant and a celebrity judge and “Guy’s Ranch Kitchen.” He also appeared on “Dinner: Impossible.”
5. Friends Have Called Ruiz an ‘Absolute Legend’ Who ‘Lived Life to the Fullest’ & Was ‘Exceptionally Nice to Everyone’ & Would ‘Set Rooms on Fire’
Food critic Troy Johnson tweeted, “Good buddy of mine is gone. He made people laugh who’d forgotten how to laugh. He set rooms on fire. He was the match and the kerosene. The smartest and lovable-ist asshole I knew. This one gutted me. Goodnight, @carlruiz.”
Sirius XM producer Travis Tefft wrote on Twitter, “I don’t think I’ve known anyone who lived life to the fullest more than @carlruiz. He was hilarious and exceptionally nice to everyone. This news truly sucks.”
Matt Farah tweeted, “Chef @carlruiz was an absolute legend, in every way that word can be applied. His food, his spirit, knowledge, insights, street smarts, humor and delivery were all legendary. The world is darker without him.”
Gregg Hughes, better known as radio personality Opie, who often had Ruiz on his show, wrote a tribute on Instagram, saying, “Yeah we had great chemistry and did great shows. That was a distant second to our friendship that I cherished. When others realized it wasn’t cool to hang out with Opie anymore Carl said f*ck that. He was the one that got me off the floor and helped me get my confidence back. He taught me how to laugh again. He’s the reason I chose to start doing shows again.”
Opie added, “I never laughed harder with anyone in my life. Carl ranks right up there with the funniest people I had the pleasure to hang out with. Brilliant, quick with such a great take of the world. Oh that laugh. Once he got going it was over for everyone around him. Lots are saying he was one of a kind. Not sure people know how true this really was. He had an energy that people really wanted to be around. He made people happy and made sure they were having the best time possible. He wasn’t one of these people that would say if you need me give me a call. He was a man that sensed a friend was in trouble and just showed up.”
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