Joe Cerniglia, a New Jersey chef once featured on Gordon Ramsay's 'Kitchen Nightmares,' was found dead in the Hudson River on Friday. His death has now been ruled a suicide, the Star-Ledger reports via the New York Medical Examiner's office.
The cause of death was drowning, but blunt impact injuries were detected on his body. A 911 caller reported seeing someone jump from the George Washington Bridge an hour before Cerniglia's body was found, though an NYPD spokesman says the investigation is still in progress: "It could be a coincidence. It might not be. I don't know if it will ever be determined."
Cerniglia was a married 39-year-old with three sons. He bought Italian eatery Campania in Fair Lawn, NJ, six years ago and was featured on FOX's restaurant-revamping series in 2007. When the episode aired, Cerniglia told the Star-Ledger the phone began ringing and "didn't stop for a long, long time," adding, "For Gordon Ramsay to come in and do that, it was good PR for me."
The same newspaper earlier this year called Cerniglia's appearance on the show his "15 minutes of fame that keep on giving."
In the 2007 'Kitchen Nightmares' episode, Cerniglia said purchasing the restaurant had put him $80,000 in debt. "I am financially in trouble. The debt of this restaurant alone is overwhelming. My personal debt -- wife, kids, mortgage -- that's a lot of debt."
Ramsay was particularly dissatisfied with Cerniglia as a businessman. "Why would you decide to go into business if you haven't got a clue how to run a business?" the blunt Brit said.
Cerniglia's mother Pat said on-camera: "I worry about Joe. I worry about his stress levels."
His wife Melissa said at the time: "The hardest thing for me is people like us put everything on the line for a dream. I just want to see him succeed."
Cerniglia participated in a New Jersey version of 'Iron Chef,' called 'Ultimate Chef Bergen County,' and was recently deemed one of the five best chefs in the state by Inside Jersey magazine.
"He was just so interested in food and so animated," said Jill Hanifan, a frequent Campania guest who knew Cerniglia. "He even made you want to eat things you didn't like. He would sit down and talk to you about food, about growing food. I had made some green tomato relish, and he let me talk. He wasn't just about me, me, me, I, I, I."
The Star-Ledger once called Cerniglia's meatballs served at Campania arguably the best in the state.
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