Atlanta Chef and “Chopped” Contestant Ria Pell Dead
The sad news of the popular chef’s passing spread like wildfire across social media along with the tales of her generosity and kindness.
A few days ago Atlanta’s Chef Ria Pell, owner of the popular Grant Park diner Ria’s Bluebird, sat across from her friend Grant Henry to mourn the loss of a mutual friend.
“He lived large and had no regrets. What more can you ask for,” Pell said of their friend, according to Henry.
Neither one suspected that she would die of a heart attack just days later. By the accounts of her friends and those who knew her, Pell lived her life the same way and had a heart bigger than most.
“She lubricated my entrance into bar ownership and gave me the tools to run the bar that I have passed on to other bar owners on Edgewood,” a saddened Henry told FrontDoor. “She operated with unbridled selflessness.”
Chef Pell started her Atlanta career at Dish, the Flying Biscuit, Mondo and Chef Annie Quatrano’s Float Away Café. According to her bio, it was Pell’s Jersey mother and Danish grandmother, who inspired her to cook the comfort foods that would become her signature dishes like the hand-sifted pancakes topped with caramelized bananas. Pell competed on the Food Network's Chopped in November of 2012 and won. She also appeared on Get Delicious alongside friend and fellow restaurateur Jim Stacy and contributed her time (and food) to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Fighting Hunger.
It was Stacy who gave her away at her wedding to Kiki Slaystana.
"I thought of Ria as a comrade, as a sister, as a mentor, as co-conspirator, as a confidant, as an artist, as an inspiration, but mostly as a 25-year long, dear friend," Stacy told FrontDoor. "I will miss my friend dearly and forever."
Ria’s Bluebird was a favorite stop for local celebrities such as Deerhunter and Blackberry Smoke, touring bands, the tattoo artists next door as well as in-town families with a hankering for some of the best brunch in town.
“She catered my baby shower and when my daughter Lana was diagnosed with cancer a few years later, she brought food to hospital – on New Year’s Eve,” said Shannon Sorrells Turner. “At five o’clock in the afternoon she and her wife Kiki drove across town just for us.”
Turner is the wife of Blackberry Smoke drummer Brit Turner who said of Pell, “She gave the best hugs.”
The Turners said that they knew Pell for over eighteen years and that she will be sorely missed. Their daughter Lana was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in December of 2009 and endured countless treatments and hospital stays and Pell refused to accept payment when the tired couple came in for a meal.
“My money was no good at the Bluebird during that awful time,” said Turner. “She was a true friend and we will miss her.
Atlanta photographer Alli Royce Soble, friends with Pell for 22 years, spoke of her stature in the community as a person first and a chef second.
“She was an icon, an incredibly loving, generous, and talented person,” Soble told FrontDoor. “The City of Atlanta mourns for the loss of Ria Pell. We lost a great one today. One of the good guys that bright light faded too soon.”
As the news trickled across the country late into the night, the tributes just kept pouring in from as far across the country as Los Angeles.
"She simply never stopped inventing, surprising, pushing, supporting, hugging, winning, yelling; she just never stopped," said her friend of 22 years artist Jon Arge of Asheville."Her drive was legendary, her focus maddening, her dedication to craft energizing, and her love of others . . . glorious. I truly am devastated by this. Her potential was staggering. Her ability to bring people together was awe-inspiring."
Pell used Arge's artwork for the mural that graced the side of her second Atlanta restaurant Sauced. Pell was 45 years old and a graduate of Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga.