When Ralph Pagano did a walkthrough of
Pagano pushed an employee out of harm's way when a violent explosion occurred during a training session at Naked Taco at Resorts World Bimini. The chef sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to Miami's Ryder Trauma Center, where he remained for 59 days.
At Ryder, Pagano endured dozens of skin-graft surgeries and hundreds of excruciating hours of physical therapy, but he never lost his sense of humor or joie de vivre throughout the process. The chef would have tacos delivered to the nursing staff tasked with treating him, and he stashed a few bottles of booze for visitors.
Though his most important chef's tools — his hands — were damaged, Pagano insisted on going to his restaurant at least a few times a week after he was released from the hospital.
His first public appearance after the accident was the 2017 South Beach Seafood Festival. Holding a cane and wearing special neoprene gloves to protect his hands, the chef was jubilant as thousands of people cheered for him.
Pagano says his near-death experience was the literal spark that ignited a complete change in the way he sees the world. "Facing mortality is powerful. In many ways, it's the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
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The chef says
Pagano has decided to focus on his family instead of expanding his business endeavors. He now concentrates solely on his South Beach party spot, Naked Taco, and has taken to using the hashtag #fireproof. "They say, 'What does not kill you makes you stronger,' and I am 100 percent living proof of that," the chef explains.
Pagano has also found a new role in life as a beacon of hope for other people who have been in accidents. "People have reached out to me who have been injured or handicapped by life events. These are not victims; if you go through severe burns, you're a survivor. We go back to the hospital from time to time. I talk to people, and I thank the wonderful staff. And I do it while serving up margaritas and tacos. That's my purpose. That's what I'm supposed to be doing."