Onetime Food Network Star Shares Organized Crime Past

David Ruggerio has a story to tell

Kitchen knives
The food world can have an unsettling side.

In 2012, Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose and Langdon Foss collaborated on a graphic novel called Get Jiro! The book offered a satirical look at a near future in which the lines between fine dining and organized crime had blurred. While that was posited as the stuff of satire, recent details have emerged about a once-prominent chef that suggests that those lines have had no small amount of real-life blurring as well.

The chef in question is Daniel Ruggerio, who had a meteoric rise to fame in the 1980s and 90s. That fame turned into infamy after he pleaded guilty to credit card fraud in 1999 — something which led to the end of his time as a television host and restauranteur.

In an interview published earlier this week at Vanity Fair, Ruggerio opened up to Gabriel Sherman about his own history — which includes significant ties to organized crime. Sherman writes that Ruggerio told him about his own checkered past: “heroin dealing, truck hijackings, loan-sharking, bookmaking, extortion, and participating in several notorious gangland murders.”

Ruggerio’s career in restaurants was born out of his love of French cuisine, and it led to him being hired by Pierre Cardin in 1990 to run the Cardin-owned Maxim’s. But balancing two relatively disparate worlds began to take its toll on Ruggerio.

At one point, Sherman asks Ruggerio an understandable question: why didn’t he end his time in the Mafia when he was finding success elsewhere? “I never felt like I belonged in the legitimate food world,”Ruggerio tells him. “In the street was where I felt respected.”

The whole interview is a fascinating read — both from its evocation of a particular time in New York history and for its dizzying look behind the curtain in the world of cooking.


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