Chef who felt the sharp end of Ramsay's tongue is found dead

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The Independent Online

They are words of typically forthright advice that have come back to haunt Gordon Ramsay. During the first season of the US version of his Emmy-winning show Kitchen Nightmares, the celebrity chef berated the owner of the failing Campania restaurant in New Jersey, telling him that unless he sorted out his lacklustre food and poor service his business was "about to fucking swim down the Hudson".

Yesterday, police confirmed that a body found floating in the same river was that of Joseph Cerniglia, the troubled owner of the struggling local Italian restaurant which was successfully rescued following the intervention of the British culinary superstar three years ago.

It is believed that Mr Cerniglia, 39, jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Friday.

He is the second chef to have apparently committed suicide after appearing with the famously caustic Ramsay – a woman who appeared in the 2006 series of his other hit show, Hell's Kitchen, shot herself a year later.

In a statement, Ramsay paid tribute to Mr Cerniglia, who leaves behind a widow and three sons. "I was fortunate to spend time with Joe during the first season of Kitchen Nightmares. Joe was a brilliant chef and our thoughts go out to his family, friends and staff," he said.

During the filming of the Fox show in 2007, the three-Michelin-starred chef became increasingly vexed at Mr Cerniglia's poor management skills. As well as providing overly generous portions of uninspiring food cooked and served by somnolent staff, the restaurant had become mired in debt and was losing its customers.

Confronted with the chaos around him, an exasperated Ramsay asked Mr Cerniglia: "Why did you become a chef-owner if you haven't a clue how to run a business?"

The former executive chef at Manhattan's celebrated Gallagher's Steak House admitted there were "big problems", that he was $80,000 in the red and that he feared he would be forced to close within the year.

"I'm financially in trouble – the debt of the restaurant alone is overwhelming. My personal debt – wife, kids mortgage – that's a lot of debt," he told Ramsay.

Mr Cerniglia's wife, Melissa, broke down during filming and said she was deeply worried about her husband, who was under intense pressure because of the problems he faced. "People like us put everything on the line for a dream, and I just want to see him have the time to succeed. If this business fails, we will lose everything," she said.

But despite the on-screen appearances of conflict, those who knew the Cerniglias said yesterday that Ramsay helped them turn around the ailing business after a grand re-opening – transforming it into a thriving enterprise which was packed out each weekend.

Evelina Grzymala, 22, who worked at a tanning salon next door, said the late restaurateur had been grateful to the British chef. "He said Ramsay was intense but that he turned out to be a nice guy, that in the end, he helped him out," she recalled. The Cerniglia family posted a message on his Facebook page yesterday thanking friends for their condolences.

The tragedy follows the death of 41-year-old chef Rachel Brown, who appeared in Ramsay's other TV hit Hell's Kitchen in 2006. She had been eliminated by the fifth episode but was invited back to assist in the final. She shot herself at her home in Dallas the following year.

Kitchen Nightmares has proved a huge hit for Ramsay, scooping a Bafta and an Emmy. The chef won a libel action against the Evening Standard newspaper in 2006 after it claimed that scenes in the show were faked. At the time he said: "I won't let people write anything they want to about me. We have never done anything in a cynical fake way."