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Cooking wasn’t just a passion for the chef, Ruiz said, but an obsession to reach perfection fueled by nonstop work and long days in the kitchen week after week. That drive to keep working past the exhaustion and build his restaurant into his ideal establishment kept diners coming back to Finch Hutton, but the chef said it made him difficult to work with.
“I had a reputation as one of those guys that would yell and scream,” he said. “I was focused and determined on one thing, and that was cooking. I was obsessed to the point where it was becoming unhealthy.”
Ruiz saw friends and mentors in the culinary profession self-medicate to handle the stress and wear on their bodies. Through the years, he said he also saw some of those people die, either from overdoses or the strain of an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle.
Ruiz spent the next five years practicing and learning Buddhism, mostly at the A Di Da Meditation Temple in Houston. He eventually became a monk and began teaching, even occasionally hosting a class at a temple in Port Arthur. It was during this time that Ruiz said he began to face the parts of his personality that had turned his gift into an obsession, and ultimately became a stronger person by letting go of those feelings. He truly enjoyed his life as a monk and probably would have continued if it weren’t for the opportunity to open Finch Hutton.
Things have come full circle from chef to monk to restaurateur once again.