Acclaimed Twin Cities chef Jack Riebel has died.
Riebel, the former executive chef at The Lexington in St. Paul, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in the summer of 2019. He died Monday morning.
He is remembered as a passionate, award-winning chef with a big heart. Alma, a Minneapolis restaurant, called him a "true legend of our community who helped shape what it means to dine in the Twin Cities today" in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Stephanie March of MSP Magainze said of Riebel:
"I want you to understand that no one had an impact on our local food scene like chef Jack did, because he had a different kind of power. 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. It was a light and energy that he gave away generously to anyone who was open to receiving it."
Riebel grew up in St. Paul and dropped out of high school when he was 15. He enrolled in the culinary school at St. Paul Technical Vocational Institute (St. Paul College) and started his restaurant career when he was 19, working as a prep cook at the Radisson Plaza in Minneapolis. He went on to be a line cook at Goodfellow's where he worked his way up to executive sous, cooking James Beard dinners and meals for Julia Child, Billy Joel and Mikhail Gorbachev, according to the institute.
He went on to work as a chef at La Belle Vie in Stillwater and the Dakota Jazz Club before he opened his first restaurant, Butcher and the Boar. He did brief stints at Paddy Shack and Il Foro before he rebooted the St. Paul institution that is The Lexington.
Last spring, the restaurant community rallied around Riebel as he underwent aggressive treatment for his cancer of the neuroendocrine system — the fourth in a year. And in May, he returned to the kitchen at The Lexington, launching a new menu. But in November, he officially stepped away from his role as executive chef at The Lex.
Over his nearly 40 years in the restaurant industry, Riebel mentored and inspired a generation of food professionals in the Twin Cities, the institute said.
Those who knew him have been sharing memories and condolences on social media, thanking him for everything he's done. Here are some of them:
Riebel's family has created a scholarship in his honor at St. Paul College to help remove barriers to educational access for aspiring young chefs (you can donate here). Throughout his career, Riebel credited the education he received at the school.
The Mayo Clinic says cancer of the neuroendocrine system — the same type of cancer Steve Jobs and Aretha Franklin had — is rare and begins in the neuroendocrine cells (cells that are similar to nerve cells and hormone-producing cells), which can cause cancerous tumors to grow anywhere in the body, though most often occur in the lungs, appendix, small intestine, rectum and pancreas.
The exact cause of these tumors isn't known, and some tumors can grow very slowly while others invade and destroy normal body tissue or spread to other parts of the body, Mayo says.
There is no cure for neuroendocrine cancer and there are limited treatment options.