Ria Pell, chef and owner of the renowned Bluebird Cafe and a beloved member of Atlanta’s restaurant and queer community, died Sunday.
Pell’s Facebook page is being filled with tributes of love and sadness of the sudden loss of the Atlanta chef as well as a supporter of LGBT equality.
Pell’s family includes her wife, Kiki Carr, and partner, Karen Portaleo.
The Grant Park Neighborhood Association posted this statement to its Facebook page on Sunday: “We are hearing news of Ria Pell’s (Ria’s Bluebird) passing today from an apparent heart attack. This is a huge loss for Grant Park and Atlanta. Ria, you will be sorely missed.”
Good friend Jamie Ferguson posted to her Facebook page this loving tribute to her friend:
Ria cooked one of our wedding meals, and Rowan’s first real outing was to see her at The Bluebird. She had given me a pair of her famous overalls to wear as maternity wear. We toasted Ro’s birth with champagne from her and Kiki. There will forever be a Ria-shaped hole in our hearts and our community. May we fill it with love for each other and laughter and great big bear hugs, just like she would want us to do. Take this reminder to tell people you love them, folks. Every time you say it could be the most important time.
Another friend, Vii Kelly, posted: “There are so many people posting and sharing their love for Ria Pell this cold night. The tears came easy. Thank you Atlanta for your love. This is why we queers stick around here, all the love, all the support, we are lucky to have had Ria be our guide thru so much fun.”
Pell was named GA Voice’s Best Chef in 2011 and 2013 and also showed her cooking skills under pressure by winning an episode of “Chopped” last November that came with a $10,000 grand prize. View photos from the “Chopped” watch party she held by clicking here.
She was also a founder of the now defunct 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 competed on the Food Network’s popular show “Chopped” in November. In an interview after taping the episode she told the GA Voice, “It was fast and furious. It was like I was on a spaceship on hyperdrive. I really was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ It’s really as stressful as you see on TV. It keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
Pell said she tried to prepare for the show by watching hours and hours of “Chopped” to see all the different kinds of ingredients that are thrown at the chefs.
“I watched the show non-stop, doing my homework. I was just ready for them to put Beluga whale on the table,” Pell said with her signature laugh.
Just weeks after being named “Chopped” champion, Pell announced she was closing the doors of Sauced Atlanta after four years in Inman Park after she sold the restaurant.
Pell said at the time she planned to re-engergize her iconic restaurant, Ria’s Bluebird, after returning from a “well earned vacation” as well as “plot the next concept in the Atlanta restaurant scene.”
“It’s definitely bittersweet to have such great success and then close our doors, but another door is surely opening on the horizon. I’m so proud of what were able to convey with Sauced, showcasing locally grown food, imaginative and inspired cocktails, in a sexy, comfy setting with incredible music,” Pell said in a prepared statement.
Last year Pell was featured in the GA Voice’s dining and beverage issue and gave readers some of her favorite holiday recipes. Below are her recipes and also highlights of her career.
Chef Ria Pell Ria’s Bluebird and Sauced Restaurant & Lounge
Top three career highlights • Bluebird’s review in the New York Times • Working under Anne Quatrano • Meeting Jane Fonda at my restaurant
When your “Chopped” episode aired: Nov. 20 originally [Ria won]
One “Chopped” ingredient you hope you never have to cook with again: Hot dog buns for sure
“Good Night St. Nick” (an awesome cocktail for the Holidaze) Ingredients • 2 oz Sazerac Rye • 2 oz orange maple syrup* • 3 dashes whiskey barrel bitters • 2 bar spoons of Allspice Dram liquor • 5 fresh cranberries Directions: Shake all ingredients in mixing glass and tin until cranberries are bruised. Serve on ice in a collins glass. *Orange maple syrup recipe: Reduce 1 quart fresh squeezed OJ by half and cool. Whisk in 1 cup maple syrup and refrigerate mixture for later use.
Vegan Latkes (you don’t have to tell your family, but your girlfriend will love you for it) Ingredients • 2 1/2 # Idaho potatoes shredded on a box grater, rinsed well and squeezed dry • 1 small white onion, also shredded on a box grater • 2 tablespoons cornstarch • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt • 1/2 tsp black pepper • 1 cup matzo meal • 1 cup vegetable oil for frying Directions: Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and store until oil in cast iron skillet is hot. Fry in small batches; don’t flip them too early or have too much oil in the pan. Patience is a virtue.