Over the weekend, Chef Carl Ruiz died at the young age of 44. Though you may never have eaten at one of Chef Ruiz’s restaurants — they were based in New York City area — you’ll definitely recognize him as a frequent guest on various Food Network productions including Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games.
Ruiz was beloved among chefs who had the pleasure of working with him on and off camera, something that is clear with the outpouring of love and grief that many have been sharing on social media. His colleague and good friend Guy Fieri wrote in a tribute to Ruiz, “His ability to make me laugh and smile under any circumstances was only outshined by his talent as a chef. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of great people but a friend like Carl is one in a hundred million.”
Born in New Jersey, Ruiz grew up in a Cuban-Colombian household; his most recent venture, downtown New York’s La Cubana, opened just this past June. “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,” his restaurant wrote in the announcement of his unexpected passing. “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.” The established also announced that they would be working to establish The Carl Ruiz Scholarship Foundation to help launch the careers of aspiring chefs.
With the opening of La Cubana, Ruiz had taken the opportunity to use his platform to honor Cuban food and culture, integrating live Latin music and Havana-inspired touches in the design of the space itself. His brother George explained to the New York Times that their Cuban mother Elisa was the inspiration behind the restaurant. “My mom and my grandmother are culinary artists in their own way, even if they don’t have a degree,” he said.
George added that their father Yezzid, who’s Colombian, influenced the way that Ruiz had always treated his role as a chef and restaurateur. Growing up, the two brothers worked with their parents at a tire shop in New Jersey, where they learned how to carry out their time and energy in the world. “[Carl] wasn’t just fixing your tire: He was helping you get to work. It was an integral part of a solid immigrant community, helping people get what they needed.”