Grotta D’Oro was a well-known Italian cafe in Sheepshead Bay. On Friday evenings, Gambino capo Carmine Lombardozzi performed organization there out of his Rolls-Royce parked out front. Lombardozzi was perhaps the Gambino family’s greatest earner. He specialized in “pump and dump” stock market place fraud and bank loan-sharking. (His nickname was “The King of Wall Road.”) When Ruggerio showed up, Tiny Pete waved him about. Lombardozzi whispered to Ruggerio that he would be doing work for him. The message was crystal clear: Ruggerio couldn’t contact Ernie Onorato, but Onorato couldn’t touch him both. “Carmine was the 900-pound gorilla that Ernie was not going to fuck with. And from that day on, I was one particular of Carmine’s guys,” Ruggerio reported.

The new affiliation came with a need. Lombardozzi expected that associates of his crew would uncover legit work opportunities to deflect legislation enforcement attention. Ruggerio experienced dim prospects. He was lately expelled from significant university and experienced a criminal document. He did, although, have a top secret enthusiasm: cooking. If he experienced to get a career, then he needed to be a chef.

Inspite of his heritage, Ruggerio experienced no motivation to get the job done in an Italian kitchen. “Italian eating places had been junk in these days. They had been pink-sauce places. You know, glorified pizzerias,” he said. In the early 1980s, French cuisine dominated the New York eating scene, and that is the foods Ruggerio aspired to cook dinner. “I went to the Kings Plaza mall wherever there was a B. Dalton bookstore,” he recalled. “I purchased all the French cookbooks by Julia Youngster, Auguste Escoffier, and Jacques Pépin,” he recalled. “I began memorizing French phrases. I eaten the New York Situations meals area and Jay Jacobs’s restaurant reviews in back troubles of Gourmand journal. Soon after all that reading, I knew what the top rated places to eat had been.”

A single of them was La Caravelle. The menu had hardly transformed given that the restaurant opened in 1960. It showcased classics this sort of as quenelles de brochet, striped bass Dugléré, and oeufs à la neige. “I walked in, and it was like some thing out of a film,” Ruggerio recalled. “The kitchen was in the basement of the Shoreham Resort. There have been all these Frenchmen in pristine white toques and significant hats working close to. There was no English getting spoken.” Following lunch company a single working day, Ruggerio approached the chef, Roger Fessaguet. “Before I could get three terms out, while, he goes, ‘Non! I’m not selecting. Leave!’ Correct then, I resolved this is where by I was heading to get the job done.”

In the spring of 1981, La Caravelle hired Ruggerio as an entremetier, a junior cook that primarily is effective with greens and soups. There was a thoughts-numbing amount of money of details to take in at a breakneck rate in a language he hardly understood. Chefs would yell out an order for consommé Tosca and a further for consommé vert-pré, and he’d have to instantly know the distinction concerning 1 (hen consommé thickened with tapioca and garnished with julienned carrot and quenelles of hen, truffles, and foie gras) and the other (rooster consommé garnished with finely slice veggies and fresh sorrel). He kept the e book Le Répertoire de la Delicacies at his station and feverishly flipped through it when he obtained lost, which was often. “Those very first couple of services were being pure hell,” he recalled. “They screamed at me all the time. But the much more they screamed, the additional I desired it. I understood that if I stayed in the road, I was heading to get killed or go to jail.”

Ruggerio promptly recognized that a French kitchen area was not dissimilar to La Cosa Nostra. Both have been governed by rigid hierarchies and Previous Earth codes. Transgressors were punished harshly. “At La Caravelle they would inspect your drawer two times a working day, and if your knives weren’t cleanse and sharp, they threw all the things on the floor,” Ruggerio claimed. He highly regarded how the imperious owner, Robert Meyzen, enforced the dining room’s gown code like a hardened don. “He once did not enable Jackie Kennedy in mainly because she was putting on trousers,” Ruggerio recalled. “Another time, Ralph Lauren confirmed up donning a person of all those Western leather-based bolo ties. Meyzen advised him he had to have on a tie. Ralph mentioned, ‘I am carrying one.’ Meyzen pointed at it and stated, ‘No, you tie horses up with that!’ He threw him out.” (Lauren did not react to a ask for for comment.)

When Ruggerio was not in the kitchen area, he was knocking heads in the street. “I would often go with guys to smaller stock brokerages that Carmine experienced and lean on brokers,” Ruggerio mentioned. Ruggerio meant to compartmentalize his two lives, and he in no way told any individual at La Caravelle who he ran with. “He would just tell me about the place he grew up in Brooklyn and his earlier staying a boxer,” reported former La Caravelle prepare dinner Fabrizzio Salerni, who now works for Daniel Boulud.

Violence, however, wasn’t something Ruggerio could swap on and off—it virtually ended his nascent cooking vocation. One night a number of months after landing the task at La Caravelle, Ruggerio reported he was mugged on the subway in Brooklyn. In the ensuing battle, Ruggerio grabbed the attacker’s knife and stabbed him in the arm and stomach. “I was out of handle. I obtained on prime of the guy and assaulted him,” Ruggerio recalled. Ruggerio claimed self-defense, but the Brooklyn D.A., viewing Ruggerio’s arrest report, charged him with attempted murder. Ruggerio remembered paying out 10 days in jail on Rikers Island until finally, he says, Lombardozzi’s 40-yr-previous nephew, Danny Marino, bailed him out. Ruggerio claimed Marino instructed him to get out of city.

Ruggerio returned to La Caravelle and begged Fessaguet to locate him a cooking position in France. “He must have witnessed the emotion in my eyes,” Ruggerio mentioned. Fessaguet sent Ruggerio to the Riviera to coach underneath famed chef Jacques Maximin at the Michelin two-star restaurant Le Chantecler in Nice’s famed Resort Negresco. The French push dubbed the five-foot-five Maximin the “Bonaparte of the Ovens.” Ruggerio found that his new manager lived up to the moniker. Maximin disdained American cooks (and People in america in basic). “He mentioned American products and solutions have been shit, there was no American delicacies, and American cooks have been all shit,” Ruggerio recalled. But Ruggerio’s outer-borough qualifications amused Maximin. “You are not American, you’re from Brookleeen!” Maximin at the time joked. (Maximin did not respond to a request for comment.) Right after a year, Maximin despatched Ruggerio to complete his apprenticeship with some of France’s best cooks. Initially prevent was Roger Vergé, who experienced mentored Maximin, Boulud, and Alain Ducasse at his Michelin three-star restaurant Le Moulin de Mougins, in the vicinity of Cannes. From there it was on to Michel Guérard, who pioneered nouvelle delicacies at his spa cafe in the Pyrenees. Ruggerio’s remaining place was Paul Bocuse’s famous cafe L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, on the outskirts of Lyon.

Meanwhile, Lombardozzi’s crew cleaned up Ruggerio’s authorized troubles. “Guys frequented my attacker at his mother’s Brooklyn property, and persuaded him to not cooperate with the investigation,” Ruggerio said. When I questioned what they did, Ruggerio responded, “Let’s just say they spoke the English this person comprehended.”