Reuben Ruiz: Miami's Own Food Network Star

Bobby Flay. Giada De Laurentiis. Guy Fieri. They're just a few of the chefs and hosts who have worked their way into the kitchens of America through their entertaining shows on Food Network.

A coveted hosting gig is the aspiration of many young chefs and cooks who dream of being behind the stove and in front of the camera. The question they often ask is, "How on Earth do you get that one big break?" For some Food Network stars, that break began with a televised cooking competition on (you guessed it) Food Network.

See also: Food Network Filming New Show in Miami

Food Network Star, the show that searches for a "Food Network Star," launched the careers of Jeff Mauro, Melissa d'Arabian, and none other than Guy Fieri. It's back, beginning Sunday, June 1, at 9 p.m., with a dozen new contestants vying for the top prize -- their own TV show. This time, Miami has someone to root for. Among the contestants is Reuben Ruiz, a restaurant owner from Miami who has wanted to be a part of the culinary cable channel since childhood. Ruiz is competing for the title of Food Network Star and the opportunity to have his very own show.

Ruiz recently spoke with New Times about his journey.

New Times: Contestants come from all walks of life -- writers, chefs, restaurateurs, home cooks. Where do you fit in?

Reuben Ruiz: First off, I'm a happy resident of Miami, and I have a liquor store and restaurant in Miami Springs called Airport Cafe and Liquors. We make Colombian and Cuban food and a few Central American plates as well.

Why did you decide to compete on Food Network Star?

This has been a big goal and dream of mine. I've been watching the chefs cooking on Food Network since I was 10. I would watch Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali and see them happy and living life to the fullest... and they were overweight. I guess that struck a chord in me because I always had issues with my own weight.

I struggled with my weight my whole childhood. When I was about 20 years old, I weighed 280 pounds and wore a size 46. Being a very chubby person, it's very hard to establish relationships with anyone.

You've lost a lot of weight. What inspired you to make that change?

I was tired of girls complaining that I should improve myself. So you could say I lost the weight to get chicks. It's amazing what you women can do to us. Seriously, though, I was a student at Johnson & Wales University and there were some really wonderful nutrition classes there. From there, I really got into fitness and weight-loss. It took me about five years to lose about 100 pounds. But that's what you have to do -- make a life commitment. If you lose weight quickly, you'll almost always gain it back because you didn't make a real lifestyle change.

But food was your passion...

Yes. I went to JWU and received my two-year culinary arts degree and a bachelor's in Food Service Management. You could say I gained my "freshman 50" there. But it also helped me. We all use food as emotional meters. Learning how to cook healthier led to the weight-loss, and that completely changed my life. Not only the physical aspect -- when I lost weight, I became more outgoing and had more confidence.

Each contestant on Food Network Star has a "show concept." What's yours?

The sabor of Miami. I want to include all the flavors of Miami. I want to also incorporate the healthier aspect of cooking, but I don't want to bombard people with health either. Moderation is key.

What are you looking forward to during the show?

Being around the mentors and meeting the other contestants. I have aspirations of being just like them and having my own show. I have so many things to learn from Giada [De Laurentiis] and Bobby [Flay] and Alton [Brown] -- [they] are just badasses.

Just being on Food Network can open a lot of doors. If someone right now gave you a blank check, what would you do with it?

Honestly, my dream is to work at Food Network. To be able to shop at Chelsea Market and then develop recipes at their test kitchens and then share those recipes with people -- that's my goal.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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