You meet a lot of people in your life. The ones who breathe new energy into a room, and the ones who suck the air out of it. There are the quiet types and the ones who seem larger-than-life. And then there is that rare person who is so dynamic that their own name becomes a colloquial verb. In this case, that verb is “ruizing.”
I met Carl Ruiz, the eponym of his famous ruizing, in 2018 and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I first heard him on the Watch and Listen podcast with our mutual friends Matt Farah and Cameron Weiss. He was wild and hilarious, and I thought maybe that was just microphone Carl. But microphone Carl was the real him – he was undoubtedly everything I had already heard and more.
I, like countless others, was immediately enchanted by Carl’s demeanor. He was the kind of guy that in ten minutes made you feel like you were headed towards lifelong friendship. Carl was smart, interesting, successful, raucous, and the life of the party. He was a Food Network Chef, had started several hit restaurants, and was building his next venture, La Cubana. There was a lot there to love.
Meeting Carl Ruiz
My first face-to-face meeting with Carl was around a table with his buildout team at a cookie cutter modern office. He was wearing jeans and a blue short-sleeve button-down. He had a grey flat cap and his signature thick-frame glasses on. Though humble in dress, he was holding court. Sitting at the head of the table, his enthusiasm booming around the room, you could tell quickly that Carl was in control. After a lightning round of introductions, we got right down to business.
In a span of just a few minutes we talked about his restaurant, our work, the logistics of filming his Watch Story, how each team would support each other and of course – the watches gracing the wrists all around the table. It was a bit of a whirlwind. For just meeting someone it felt like a lot to cover- especially in twenty minutes. But I quickly realized Carl just wanted to get business out of the way. Carl wanted to celebrate and show us his version of New York.
And that is where I first learned the rules of “ruizing.” It is about maximizing the passion in life to the very fullest. Ruizing straddles that unoccupied space where you can find just as much taste in the simplicity of a street cart hot dog as you can in a 3 Michelin Star restaurant. It’s the realization that there is enjoyment all around you if you just open your eyes. Ruizing is living in the moment, at full-speed, and loving the hell out of it.
To me, that was Carl Ruiz, the unofficial king of enjoyment. As we took our first walk through the streets of New York together, he showed me that portion of the city as it was now, and as it had been in years past. He had a story for every building and his gift of gab carried us to one of the oldest bars in the city for a commemoratory drink to solidify our new venture.
We parted ways that night as friends equally excited to capture two of his passions, cooking and watches, on camera the next day. On day two Carl arrived in sweatpants, a flannel, trucker hat, and kitchen clogs. This was his element. What is perhaps more surprising is that he was even more commanding and gregarious than the night previously.
As we got started, he laid a smattering of his watch collection on the table and it immediately struck me. His collection almost didn’t seem cohesive. Typically, we see a collection where there are a lot of similarities in styling or brands. Guys will have a certain aesthetic that they lean towards, but not Carl. There was just one thing that tied his collection together – he loved the way each piece looked.
Falling in Love with Watches
Carl’s love of watches coincided with his cooking career. After learning to cook from his Grandmother and Mother, usually as a punishment, Carl eventually landed in a restaurant kitchen and never left. His first boss told him that a man should always have enough money on his wrist in the form of a watch to put a deposit on an apartment and buy a mattress and a tv. So, he purchased his first watch in high school, putting money towards it every week until he owned it. That first watch? It was a double-red Sea-Dweller and eventually he sold it for much more than he paid for it.
From there, Carl’s collection grew and shrank, depending on his mood or need. His philosophy on watches was that he bought things he could show off as a sign of success and that made him feel good. The price points were varied, but he did point out that he liked to buy pre-owned for two reasons. One, he felt like It wasn’t as crazy of a financial move, and two, that he liked watches that had a little scratch or as he liked to say, “a little English on it.” For him, it took the worry of wearing them in the kitchen away and he could enjoy two of his favorite things together.
The first watch was his favorite, a Seiko Turtle. It was the reissue and features a black bezel with gold numbers. He put a Strapco two-tone jubilee on it that sets off the case and colors. He told us “from thirty feet away it looks like an old Rolex” and when people thought it was one, he didn’t correct them.
On the other end of the spectrum was his ceramic Daytona 116500 with the black bezel, white dial and black subdial rings. He noted its ridiculousness because he said that it was archaic in design. To him, it was hard to read, and the chronograph was tough to use. But he loved to show it off because it helped him connect with people, albeit even when it made them jealous that he got that hard-to-find watch.
The AP Royal Oak was a rare one. It was a scuba edition with a blue ring on the inside. With a compressor case, it was his big dog. For Carl, it was the Lambourghini Countache of watches. He said it was a grail that most people didn’t know that they had.
Carl enjoyed keeping his watches lighthearted. He felt that owning a watch wasn’t practical, but that it was ok to just like them. He wasn’t concerned with the movement or construction, but rather the beauty. For him watches were a way to connect with people, show appreciation, and tell the world he was proud of his success.
After Filming and Seeing La Cubana
In May of 2019, I had the chance to go back to New York and show Carl his Watch Story. He seemed to love it, and even called a few chef friends from other restaurants to come take a look.
While I was there, he showed me the progress of La Cubana, and cooked me a meal. The restaurant had come a long way since I had seen it last. The herringbone wood floors were going in and I could see the soft oranges and blues around the walls. There were rusted iron grates with intricate scroll work and old-world tile around the bar. It was certainly beautiful and I could see the vision for his Cuban hideaway in Chelsea coming to light. I was sure that it would be a place filled with lots of joy, dancing, flowing drinks, and good people creating better memories.
We sat in the kitchen at a stainless steel table and talked about his hopes for the restaurant and his trials in perfecting the menu. He lamented about the work yet to be done with an opening night looming around the corner. The spread on the table was simple but incredibly flavorful. I know he tweaked the menu again before opening night, so that meal feels incredibly special now. He laughed at himself during the Watch Story and then we took a walk.
I didn’t think it at the time but looking back I think Carl wanted to celebrate. We’d had a huge lunch and already shared some wine. So, we stretched our legs and as we meandered through the streets. Much like our first walk together, he shared stories of the Chelsea of now and then. We stopped at this tiny little bakery called Aux Merveilleux, where we had perhaps the best meringues I have ever eaten. They were light and crisp and melted in your mouth, the perfect complement to the savory flavors of our meal. It was our small celebration for the progress on the restaurant and the Watch Story. Little did I realize at the time that we were ruizing. We were enjoying those moments to their fullest capacity.
Carl Ruiz passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on September 21, 2019. Leading up to that night he had spent time working hard and ruizing harder. La Cubana had opened and it was, unsurprisingly, an instant and lauded success. His death was tragic, but above all the passion with which is he lived his life is hopeful. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know and befriend Carl. Though we were not close friends, we remained in contact over the last year and half. I will remember his infectious laugh, his wild stories, and the way he enjoyed even the smallest of things. He will be missed, and it is my hope that his legacy of “ruizing” will continue on through his family, friends, and his faithful fans. Rest easy, friend.