TRENTON, N.J. (1010 WINS/ AP) — A New Jersey chef who described “overwhelming” personal debt when he was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” show jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.
The body of 39-year-old Joseph Cerniglia was found floating in the Hudson River on Friday. Grace Burgess, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner’s office, said the office on Tuesday ruled Cerniglia’s death a suicide.
Cerniglia owned Campania in Fair Lawn, N.J., which he bought in 2006. In 2007, the debt-ridden Italian restaurant was featured on Ramsay’s show.
During the broadcast, Cerniglia estimated he owed purveyors about $80,000.
“I’m financially in trouble. The debt of the restaurant alone is overwhelming,” he said. “My personal debt — wife, kids, mortgage — that’s a lot of debt.”
His wife added, “If this business fails, we will lose everything.”
“Why did you become a chef-owner if you haven’t a clue how to run a business?” Ramsay asks him on the show.
A self-taught chef, Cerniglia worked for the famed New York-based Gallagher’s Steakhouse chain for a decade, where he became the executive chef.
Jim Edwards, the culinary director at Chef Central in Paramus, was a close friend for the last seven years. He last saw Cerniglia three weeks ago and said he seemed his cheerful self.
“He never gave the outward appearance that there was anything bothering him,” Edwards said. “He was always very creative and upbeat. He had a very infectious smile and a way of making you feel at home.
“It’s very tragic, whatever it was he couldn’t overcome,” Edwards said.
Edwards said his friend benefited from being on Ramsay’s show and said he thought it portrayed him in a favorable light overall.
“I thought he fared well,” Edwards said. “I was never at the restaurant when it wasn’t packed.”
Cerniglia is the second former contestant on a Ramsay television show to commit suicide. The other was a former contestant on Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen” chef competition.
Calls and e-mails sent to Ramsay’s publicist in London were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Cerniglia leaves behind his wife and three sons, ages 13, 11 and 9.
The family is holding a private funeral service on Wednesday for Cerniglia in Wayne, where he grew up. Relatives declined to talk about him Tuesday when reached by The Associated Press.
In his obituary, his family spoke positively about the show: “He was honored to have his restaurant featured on an episode of ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ and the television experience was thrilling for him.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)