MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jack Riebel, one of Minnesota’s most acclaimed and beloved chefs, has died.
An obituary posted online says that Riebel, the former executive chef at the Lexington who has been battling cancer of neuroendocrine system for the last two and-a-half years, died Monday morning, surrounded by family and friends.
“We never had kids but he had hundreds of kids at his restaurants,” said his wife, Kathryne Cramer. “He was an innate teacher. He was always teaching. He made everybody feel special. That was his gift.”
WCCO’s Jason DeRusha was a friend of Riebel’s and spent much time with him during his fight with cancer.
“Giant smile, giant laugh, giant heart. Jack Riebel was a giant in every way,” DeRusha wrote in an Instagram post.
A number of Twin Cities chefs and restaurants posted tributes to Riebel. Chef Justin Sutherland, of Handsome Hog and Side Chick, wrote that Riebel was a treasure to the local food scene.
“Thank you for sharing, teaching, and giving so much to us all,” Sutherland said.
Mpls/St. Paul Magazine food writer Stephanie March wrote Tuesday that “chef Jack” had a unique impact on the Twin Cities culinary landscape.
“His influence didn’t come from awards or national attention (which he also had), but a very specific energy that radiated out from him: because he always knew who he was,” she wrote. “It was a light and energy that he gave away generously to anyone who was open to receiving it. That’s all you had to do: hold his bright blue gaze, listen to his laugh, clasp a meaty handshake, and receive. It didn’t matter who you were, dignitary, jazz legend, bartender, or guest, if you were open to Jack he gave you everything he had.”
James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim, the woman behind acclaimed Minneapolis restaurants Young Joni and Sooki & Mimi, wrote on Instagram that Riebel set a bold example for others to follow.
“He lived and led with love not fear,” she wrote. “Your legacy lives on. Rest In Peace, Chef.”
Riebel was born and raised in St. Paul. His culinary career started when he was a teenager and led him on a path to be head chef at La Belle Vie in Stillwater. Next, he spearheaded the Dakota Jazz Club’s relocation to downtown Minneapolis, and he became co-owner of the acclaimed Butcher and the Boar restaurant, also in downtown Minneapolis.
Riebel returned to his St. Paul roots when he rebooted the Lexington, making it, in his words, “a working-class supper clubs, the kind of place anyone can go and feel special.”
With over four decades in the restaurant industry, Riebel inspired and mentored a generation of young chefs. His cookbook collection, which stands at over 500 volumes, will be donated to St. Paul College.
Riebel and his family established a scholarship in his name at St. Paul College to help remove barriers to educational access for young chefs. To donate, click here.