Popular gay Atlanta chef Ria Pell dies at 45

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Dyke of deliciousness Ria Pell, who delighted breakfast fans at Ria’s Bluebird for more than 13 years, died Sunday, shocking fans and foodies who have flooded Facebook with tributes to the chef who last year won “Chopped.”

The talented culinary artist, who was as likely to throw a packed anniversary party or host a cook-off outside the Memorial Drive restaurant as she was to create new inspirations inside, was 45.

Creative Loafing offered a few details of what happened:

Pell had recently misplaced her cell phone. On Sunday afternoon, Ria's Bluebird manager Julie Pender went to Pell's Grant Park home to ask her a question, when she discovered that Pell had passed away. The cause of death is yet to be determined. Pell was 45 years old.

In November 2012, Pell topped an episode of “Chopped” on Food Network. From a hot cauliflower explosion to her funny quips – “popcorn of the pig world” among them – Pell kept us entertained as she pushed through to become “Chopped Champion” and win $10,000. (Watch highlights above.) She delighted fans, too, hosting a watch party at her other restaurant, Sauced.

But Pell surprised fans and foodies again, announcing in December 2012 that she chopped Sauced and was exploring new culinary options after a vacation to Denmark with partner Kiki Carr and other family members.

Readers of the GA Voice named Pell Best Chef in 2011 and 2013. And, according to the media outlet, food wasn't her only passion:

She was also a founder of Mondo Homo, an alternative queer art and music festival that celebrated the otherness of Atlanta and the South's LGBT scenes. For a few years, she held court as DJ Hawg Tied for the popular “Log Jam” parties at gay bar Mary's in East Atlanta.

Pell occasionally hit bumps in the road. In September 2012, Ria’s failed its health inspection, though quickly passed a follow up. A re-inspection about three weeks later earned the restaurant a passing score of 91.

On Sunday, tributes to Pell surfaced on social media and in media outlets.

The AJC’s longtime food critic, John Kessler, offered:

Pell was a well loved personality in Atlanta’s intown restaurant community. Local fans cheered earlier this year when she won the television cooking competition “Chopped.”

One of the most touching came from Jon Arge, a gay artist and photographer and longtime Atlanta resident who now lives in Asheville, N.C.:

Devastated, mad, and heartbroken, what I mourn most in this sudden darkness is our collective loss in her still vast, but now silent, potential.

She simply never stopped. Inventing, surprising, pushing, supporting, hugging, winning, yelling – she just never stopped.

20+ years ago, when we were both young men, I was every part of my being as intimidated by her as I eventually grew to be inspired. If you did good, she punched you in the arm. If you fucked it up, she punched you in the arm. It didn’t matter – either way, both were immediately followed by a hug, a sly grin, and a knowing squint. Your toughest critic, she always had your back.

Her drive was legendary, her focus maddening, her dedication to craft energizing, and her love of others . . . glorious.

I am as grateful to have known her as a friend as I am appreciative to have often basked in her considerable successes.

And, if it’s true, that the measure of a life well lived is in the void it leaves once spent, then she did it up, she did it all, and she did it right.

My thoughts are, this night, with her wife Kiki, her families, and the thousands of hearts she clearly touched in her full, but tragically too short, time here.

Rest well, Ria Pell. Well played, and hard earned, your legacy is forever safe.


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