Celeb chef David Ruggerio admits to life in the mafia


He’s now dishing on his main course with the mob.

One-time TV chef and lauded Big Apple restauranteur David Ruggerio has admitted to a secret life as a made man for the mob — even involved in a series of underworld murders, starting when he was aged just 11.

“I was living two lives,” Ruggerio, 59, told Vanity Fair in an extraordinary interview breaking omertà, the mob’s sacred code of silence.

Throughout his celebrated decades-long career in the kitchen — cooking for presidents and royalty and even landing his own Food Network show — Ruggerio was also an active soldier for the Gambinos, he said.

Even as he enjoyed greater celebrity in the 1990s running Manhattan restaurants La Caravelle, Maxim’s and Le Chantilly, Ruggerio said he grew ever-deeper in his mob life — getting actively involved in heroin dealing, loan-sharking, extortion and helping several notorious gangland murders.

Gambino family
In an interview with Vanity Fair, David Ruggerio admitted to being a soldier in the Gambino crime family.
New York Post

“I did things when I was pushed that I’m not proud of,” he told the magazine of the mob life he also hopes to publish in a biography.

“But to really, truly be in the streets, you gotta have a black heart. When you turn that switch, there can be no emotion. You have no pity. You gotta just do it,” he said.

“I didn’t want to be a criminal. I want you to understand that. I loved being a chef,” he insisted.

David Ruggerio
David Ruggerio said he was involved in heroin dealing and even murder when he was part of the mafia.
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His secret life involves his famous name — which hides the obvious mob ties of his birth name, Sabatino Antonino Gambino.

His Sicilian father, Saverio Erasmo Gambino, was a cousin of Carlo Gambino, the infamous “boss of bosses,” who ruled New York’s five Mafia families in the 1960s and ’70s, he revealed.

His dad took him to Sicily in 1977 — just before he started high school — where he was made by Santo Inzerillo, the brother of Palermo boss Totuccio Inzerillo, he said.

David Ruggerio
David Ruggerio has had a TV show on the Food Network, cooked for presidents and ran Manhattan restaurants La Caravelle, Maxim’s and Le Chantilly.
New York Post

The ceremony included him getting a homemade tattoo on his right shoulder with a fiery cross image and the words Uomo de Fiducia, Italian for “man of trust.”

Ruggerio said he had already been readied for a life of crime after a series of tragedies as a youngster, including finding his infant sister dead when he was four, getting beaten by a stepfather — and then seeing his pregnant mom die of an asthma attack when he was just five.

“I learned early that I had a very cold side to me,” he told Vanity Fair of those painful early experiences.

Daniel Marino Gambino
Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio said his final break with the mob came when the mafia boss Daniel Marino Gambino made no effort to come to his son’s funeral.
Federal Court Evidence

“Did I want to be a gangster? Never one day did I say to myself, ‘Yeah, I want to be a gangster when I grow up’ … All I wanted to do was survive the next day.”

Still, as a child, he said he was mentored as a mobster by “the most ruthless gangster I ever saw,” Egidio “Ernie Boy” Onorato, who was nicknamed Ernie “M&M,” short for “murder and mayhem,” he said.

Ruggerio was just 11 when he watched Onorato beat to death Anthony Finn — who he said was a federal informant — beating him to death then shooting him and stuffing cocaine in his mouth near the Alley Cat bar on the Lower East Side.

David Ruggerio
Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio’s birth name is Sabatino Antonino Gambino.
Elizabeth Lippman

“We loaded the body into a car and drove it over to Avenue A and Ninth Street,” Ruggerio said.

He was even more involved in other murders, he admitted, saying he helped Onorato torture and kill a 56-year-old Genovese and Colombo associate named Pasquale “Paddy Mac” Macchirole in 1978.

But the violence also came close to home, losing a girlfriend as well as his best friend, whose body he says he left sleeping with the fishes, dumping it in in the waters near Sheepshead Bay.

David Ruggerio
Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio said he earned the equivalent of $230,000 drug dealing when he was a teen.
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Still, he got to enjoy the trappings of the life of crime, saying he earned $50,000 — equivalent to about $230,000 today — from drug dealing when he was still a teen, he told the mag.

He would also party at his mentor’s home in Florida where “there was always a quarter or half kilo of coke piled up” on a coffee table.

“Ernie used to have girls over and everybody was naked. For me, sex at 14 and 15 wasn’t a big deal,” Ruggerio told Vanity Fair.

He would soon make his name in the kitchen, too, becoming La Caravelle’s executive chef at 26 — a sideline that he thinks may have saved his life.

After mob boss Constantino Paul Castellano was gunned down in front of Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan, Ruggerio said he and his crew feared they would be next in the coup by John Gotti’s crew.

But “what wiseguys do most of the time is they talk about food,” Ruggerio said — and “Gotti loved Maxim’s,” he said of the hip restaurant he was hired to reinvent for fashion-mogul owner Pierre Cardin.

Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio
Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio confessed to having witnessed and been involved in several murders for the Gambino crime family.
New York Post

Ruggerio ended up throwing a 50th birthday party for Gotti at Maxim’s, the mob boss’s last birthday as a free man before his arrest and death in prison.

His life as an enforcer eventually switched over to his restaurant career, too, he said, admitting he obtained ownership of Le Chantilly in 1995 by kidnapping partner Camille Dulac and throwing him in a hole dug in a remote beach in Breezy Point, Queens.

“He was on his knees, begging for mercy,” he said, although Dulac denied it.

But it was ultimately credit card fraud that brought him down in July 1998,
with Ruggerio pleading guilty to attempted grand larceny in a deal the next year. He got five years’ probation and paid $100,000 in restitution.

David Ruggerio
Celebrity Chef David Ruggerio said he lost everything after pleading guilty to credit card fraud.
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Worse, he was ridiculed by his mob bosses, and “the press just categorized me as a moron because I f—ed up my TV career,” he said.

“I had five restaurants, 650 employees. And it was gone,” he recalled to Vanity Fair, with all his comeback attempts doomed. “Overnight it was gone.”

However, it was not until the overdose death of his oldest son, in June 2014, that he ultimately decided he would break his gangland code of silence, feeling slighted by the mob boss.

“He did a lot of OxyContin and drank. He went to sleep and never woke up,” Ruggerio said of his son, who had also been an aspiring gangster.

But the ultimate wound came when Daniel Marino, the capo of his Brooklyn crew, made no effort to get out of house arrest to attend the funeral, he said.

“When Danny didn’t come, that’s when I said, ‘Fuck this. I’m done,’ ” Ruggerio told Vanity Fair.

Now, he is further dishing in a yet-unpublished biography, writing that “there was no need to embellish; the truths were horrific enough.”

He insists, however, that he “will not cooperate against anyone.”

“That isn’t why I did this,” he told Vanity Fair, saying he will also accept any blowback coming his way, from his former mob pals and the authorities.

“I’ll let the chips fall where they may. After I lost my son, I knew that this has to end with me,” he said.



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