Mike Rueth

Family, friends and co-workers are remembering one of the Region's talented, hardworking and caring culinary professionals this week.

Mike Rueth, executive chef of Gamba Ristorante in Merrillville, died Feb. 2 of heart disease. Rueth, 32, was a resident of Merrillville.

Rueth is survived by his parents, Timothy and Susan Rueth, and siblings Anne, Kate and Jeff.

"He was a wonderful human being," said his father, Timothy Rueth. "And ever since he was a little kid, he was always trying to help someone." 

His sister Anne wrote a special eulogy for her brother, which she will present Friday during his funeral service at St. Thomas More Church in Munster.

"There are many things you can count on Mike for: a smile that will light up your darkest days and reflect your best ones, a quick witted joke, a concise political debate, a big bear hug, a genuine interest in your story and your life, and the best meal you've ever had. But most of all, you can always count on Mike to care and to try to help and to put your needs far ahead of his own," Anne said.

Gamba Ristorante owner Benito Gamba said he was "devastated" by the loss of Rueth.

"Michael was like my second son and one of the most caring people I ever met," Gamba said. "He's going to be dearly missed. He's one of those guys that can't be replaced." 

Gamba added that Rueth was "very creative" and had a lot of ambition as a chef. "That's something that's hard to find in young people today," he said.

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Gamba and Rueth always collaborated on the various menu items presented at the restaurant, which specializes in Northern Italian cuisine.

"He will be my angel now," Gamba said.

During a past interview with Rueth about his work at Gamba, he praised the environment and his boss.

"In addition to familial hospitality, Benny truly understands and appreciates fine food," Rueth said at that time. "As a result, he lets me source the finest meats, seafood, cheeses and produce from all over the world. As a chef, if you can put these products on a plate and enhance their natural attributes rather than detract from them, you've done your job."

During a past dining experience at Gamba, this writer was not only impressed by Rueth's culinary expertise but also his caring attitude. As his family and friends stressed, he was genuinely interested in other people, their lives, stories and their work.

In her eulogy, Anne said her brother was "incredibly passionate" about researching everything culinary related.

"He is perhaps most proud of his role as executive chef at Gamba and the relationships he's built with staff and customers alike there. He sees his boss, Benny, like a second father and works tirelessly to give everyone who comes into the restaurant the best possible experience. He has a brilliant business mind and is a visionary and teacher in so many ways. His choice to be a chef says so much about who he is, certainly an artist, but also someone who seeks to bring comfort, pleasure and traditions to others," she said.

Visitation for Rueth will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Kish Funeral Home in Munster. Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Thomas More Church in Munster.

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Entertainment Editor/Features Reporter

Eloise is A&E Editor and a food, entertainment and features writer for The Times, subjects she has covered for over two decades in and around the Region. She was the youngest of eight in a Chicago household filled with fantastic cooks and artists.