Juan-Carlos Cruz: 12 Facts About The Former Food Network Star Who Spent Time Behind Bars

Former Food Network chef Juan-Carlos Cruz rose to fame through his culinary prowess and engaging television presence. Hailing from a modest background, Cruz's big break arrived when he landed a role as the host of the Food Network show "Calorie Commando." His charismatic demeanor, weight loss journey, and his creative approach to healthy cooking resonated with viewers, propelling him to celebrity status within the culinary sphere. However, his promising career took a dark turn in 2010.

Shockingly, Cruz's name became synonymous with a heinous crime. In May 2010, he was arrested for attempting to solicit the services of hitmen to murder his wife. He was sentenced to nine years in prison shortly thereafter as a result of a plea deal. The revelation sent shockwaves through his fan base and the culinary community alike. The motive behind this sinister plot was reportedly rooted in his desire to end his wife's suffering from mental illness. The arrest marked a dramatic fall from grace for Cruz, as he faced legal proceedings and public scrutiny. Since then, he has gone down in infamy. Here are a few additional facts that you may not have previously known about the former Food Network star.

1. He was a fan of classic cooking shows

Juan-Carlos Cruz's journey to becoming a renowned Food Network chef was deeply influenced by his early fascination with classic cooking shows. As a young and aspiring culinary enthusiast, he found himself captivated by the artistry and techniques showcased on programs like "The Frugal Gourmet" and Julia Child's "The French Chef." These iconic shows not only ignited Cruz's passion for cooking but also laid the foundation for his eventual success. He meticulously studied the methods demonstrated by these cooking shows, which exposed him to diverse cuisines and instilled in him a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into every dish.

Armed with a wealth of knowledge gained from these classic cooking shows, Cruz pursued formal culinary training at the California Culinary Academy, where he refined his techniques and experimented with innovative approaches to sweets and pastries. Eventually, he caught the attention of industry insiders. Cruz's passion for classic cooking shows not only fueled his path as a chef but also set him on a trajectory toward becoming a Food Network star. His genuine love for the culinary arts, coupled with his charismatic on-screen presence, resonated with audiences worldwide. By blending the lessons learned from his favorite classic cooking shows with his personal flair, Cruz carved out a niche for himself in the competitive culinary world, ultimately realizing his dream of sharing his culinary expertise with the masses.

2. He worked for celebrities

Many chefs go on to cook for celebrities during their careers and so did Cruz. Following his graduation from the California Culinary Academy in 1993, Juan-Carlos Cruz embarked on a culinary journey that led him to rub shoulders with some of the entertainment industry's most prominent figures. He kick-started his post-graduation career as the pastry sous-chef at the esteemed Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. In this coveted role, Cruz's culinary talents were put to the test as he crafted exquisite confections for A-list personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, and Jack Nicholson. Cruz's tenure at the Hotel Bel-Air served as a pivotal point in his career that allowed him to hone his skills in a high-pressure, high-profile environment. The opportunity to create delectable desserts for Hollywood's elite not only showcased his proficiency in the culinary arts but also garnered him a reputation as a skilled and innovative pastry chef.

This experience undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping Cruz's trajectory in the culinary world. His interactions with celebrities not only provided him with invaluable exposure but also solidified his commitment to delivering exceptional dining experiences. As Cruz's journey continued, his encounters with these renowned personalities undoubtedly contributed to his eventual rise to fame as a Food Network star.

3. Juan-Carlos Cruz is a weight loss success story

Juan-Carlos Cruz's transformation was certainly a weight loss success story. Initially working as a pastry chef at Los Angeles' prestigious Hotel Bel-Air, Cruz found himself caught in the swirl of indulgence — not to mention easy access to delectable desserts — which led to his weight surging to 280 pounds. His own culinary creations contributed to his weight gain, a struggle he openly acknowledged in "The Juan-Carlos Cruz Calorie Countdown Cookbook."

Cruz's turning point arrived when he joined Discovery Health Network's "Body Challenge" show. His determination to improve his health propelled him to shed 100 pounds. This transformative experience not only changed his physical appearance but also apparently inspired his passion for healthier cooking. Capitalizing on his personal journey, Cruz leveraged his weight loss success to launch his own show on the Food Network. His program specialized in transforming high-calorie recipes into delicious low-calorie alternatives that retained their flavor. This unique approach struck a chord with viewers who sought healthier options but didn't want to sacrifice taste. "Calorie Commando" ran for two seasons that aired in 2004 and 2005. 

4. He married his high school sweetheart

Before its infamous downturn, Juan-Carlos Cruz's personal life included what appeared to be a heartwarming love story that spanned decades. The chef's union with his high school sweetheart, Jennifer Campbell, seemed to be a fitting testament to enduring love and companionship — at least on the surface. 

Their bond, nurtured over three decades, was not only an integral part of Cruz's life but also a subject he candidly discussed in his cooking book. Co-author of Cruz's second book, Amy Reiley, knew him for six years and attested to the depth of Cruz's and Campbell's connection. In the book, Cruz revealed insights into how he maintained a loving and lasting partnership with Campbell, showcasing the couple's journey from high school sweethearts to partners who weathered the challenges of life together. Unfortunately, the supposed loving partnership was thrust into a new perspective when Cruz's evil alleged plot came to light. While the couple's friends and peers seemed surprised, it's impossible to ignore that the seemingly positive surface of the relationship was not the reality.

5. He took on some serious debt

Juan-Carlos Cruz's personal struggles extended beyond the culinary realm as he and his wife confronted daunting financial challenges. The couple's fervent desire to start a family led them down a path of significant financial strain. Cruz openly acknowledged that they had invested over $200,000 in unsuccessful fertility treatments spanning a decade, ultimately plunging them into a substantial debt burden.

The emotional toll of navigating fertility treatments was compounded by the financial hardship it imposed on Cruz and Jennifer Campbell. The weight of their financial situation likely added an extra layer of complexity to Cruz's life as he simultaneously managed his burgeoning culinary career and confronted personal hardships. While debt of any kind can be stressful, using debt as an excuse for plotting a murder is nothing less than taking things to the extreme. Whether Cruz and his wife were financially strained or not, reasonable people would agree that such situations do not justify such a heinous scheme. 

6. Juan-Carlos Cruz's claimed a mystery novel gave him the idea of how to kill his wife

Juan-Carlos Cruz's descent into a dark and disturbing plot took an unusual turn when it was revealed that he claimed to have drawn inspiration from a mystery novel for his unthinkable plan. The depths of his desperation and the intricacies of his plan emerged as details unraveled during legal proceedings. 

Reports suggest that Cruz, facing the emotional strain of his wife's illness, their shared fertility issues, and their crippling financial debt, turned to the pages of a mystery novel for a sinister solution. Certainly, the author of this work of fiction never intended for their work to be taken as a guidebook, and yet, such rules apparently do not apply to individuals who are unable to see the logic of good versus bad. While we do not know which novel he chose as a source of morbid inspiration, Cruz reportedly credited the unmentioned novel with inspiring the basis for his attempt to solicit a hitman to murder his wife. Unfortunately, in Cruz's case, a sinister impulse seemed to prevail over moral logic and humanity. 

7. He blamed his murderous scheme on fertility issues

Criminals often claim that something external is to blame for prompting their poor behavior, and Juan-Carlos Cruz is no exception. In a bizarre turn of events, Cruz attributed his unthinkable actions to what he claimed was a misguided act of mercy driven by his wife's fertility struggles. It's likely that mercy is not what initially comes to mind when thinking of a murder plot, but we digress. News reports shed light on Cruz's chilling rationalization, suggesting that his wife's emotional anguish over their failed fertility treatments had become an overwhelming burden for her. Allegedly, Cruz believed that ending her suffering through a violent act could be viewed as a tragic act of compassion. We don't have any official report about what her response to this plot was, but one can hope that her husband plotting her murder was probably not the first (or even last) solution she had in mind.  

According to these reports, Cruz contended that his wife's deep sadness and religious beliefs, which prevented her from taking her own life, played a pivotal role in his self-proclaimed merciful plan. He bizarrely believed that he was relieving her of her emotional pain, albeit through utterly misguided and horrific means. Additionally, the revelation that Cruz contemplated the timing of his actions on Mother's Day, a holiday inherently associated with maternal joy, paints a further picture of his apparent depravity. 

8. He tried to hire a random guy to be his hitman

The story about Cruz led to public horror when it was revealed that he evidently attempted to hire men who happened to be without homes at the time to carry out his plot against his wife. Reports from the time shed light on the bizarre details surrounding the incident and painted a chilling picture of Cruz's reported interactions with his sought-after hitmen. Once the face of the Food Network's "Calorie Commando," Cruz approached these strangers with a grim proposition. He handed them 10 $100 bills that were cut in half, with the promise that the other halves would be given once his wife was successfully murdered. Santa Monica police indicated that Cruz also provided the men with a box cutter, gloves, and dog treats.

The witnesses' accounts, which were shared with TMZ, offered a harrowing glimpse into the alleged interaction. One of the men recounted Cruz's cryptic offer of a "dirty deed" for an affordable rate. The other witness claimed that Cruz explicitly directed them to ideally avoid a mess by using stockings but that they could cut her throat if necessary. These shocking details underscored the horrific nature of the allegations against Cruz and the extent to which he went to execute his plan. Thankfully, the strangers that he approached maintained more of a conscience than Cruz and promptly reported his job offer to the local police. 

9. He wrote a cookbook about love

In yet another demonstration of Cruz's profoundly bizarre way of thinking, we learned that while he was mid-interrogation for his murder plot, he was also writing a cookbook about love. Talk about a dichotomy. Amid the weight of his arrest for the attempted murder of his wife, Juan-Carlos Cruz made an unconventional pivot into a different culinary realm. Following his release of "The Calorie Countdown Cookbook," Cruz's subsequent move included publishing the "Love Diet" book, a choice that might raise eyebrows given his situation.

Published after his arrest, the "Love Diet" book delved into aphrodisiac recipes, adding a layer of intrigue to his already complex narrative. The timing, though seemingly paradoxical, highlighted Cruz's ability to continue focusing on his culinary ventures amidst the turmoil. In the shadow of his legal battle, Cruz's decision to craft recipes with themes of romance and sensuality displayed a distinctly twisted facet of his personality.

10. He allegedly cared more about his dogs than his wife

Many people can relate to the sentiment of caring deeply about their animals and pets. Furry family members can make a household something special, and it seems that Cruz agreed, although perhaps to a troubling level. Cruz's alleged involvement in a plot to harm his wife took yet another chilling twist with the revelation that he reportedly took precautions to spare his dogs from harm. Court documents which were released and obtained by The LA Times, suggest that Cruz communicated with his hitmen of choice, outlining his intentions while emphasizing the safety of his two dogs. The documents revealed a disturbing level of planning, with Cruz allegedly advising the hired individual to avoid harming his dogs and suggesting the use of pantyhose as a method of strangulation to minimize bloodshed and "a mess." He even purportedly provided dog treats to keep his dogs from barking during the operation.

However, these revelations also indicated that law enforcement had been aware of Cruz's elaborate plan from the outset, leading to the eventual apprehension of the hired individual. The case underscores the intersection of intrigue, crime, and animal welfare, painting a complex picture of Cruz's alleged intentions. The situation, while unsettling, provides a sobering reminder of the multifaceted dynamics that can be at play in criminal cases, with unexpected details that can shed light on the intricacies of human behavior.

11. Food Network had good timing with the end of his contract

Juan-Carlos Cruz's association with the Food Network unsurprisingly led to curiosity about the popular television station's opinion once Cruz's dark intentions came to light. Lucky for Food Network, his contract had ended years prior to his alleged involvement in the murder plot. The network's statement, confirming that Cruz had not been under contract for a significant period and that they had no current affiliation with him, highlights the fortunate timing that spared the Food Network from grappling with a potential public relations crisis. Cruz's alleged criminal activities took place after his tenure with the network had concluded, avoiding any direct implication of the network in his unsettling actions. Nonetheless, don't expect the network to air old episodes of his show "Calorie Commando."

This twist of fate, wherein Cruz's contract had ended long before his alleged sinister turn, serves as a reminder of how timing can profoundly impact a public figure's association with their past endeavors. While the Food Network distanced itself from any present involvement with Cruz, the incident underscores the interconnections between personal actions and professional reputation.

12. He's probably out of prison by now

Cruz's grim legal journey reached its culmination on a Monday in 2010 when he was sentenced to a nine-year prison term for orchestrating his plot to solicit two men to murder his wife. The severity of the sentence reflected the gravity of the crime he had been accused of committing, and after having faced a series of legal proceedings, Cruz's sentencing marked a significant chapter in a case that had garnered considerable attention. The nine-year prison term signified the weight of the consequences for his alleged actions, with the justice system responding firmly to the disturbing allegations against him.

With the passing of this sentence, Cruz's fate is no longer confined to courtroom deliberations. Instead, we are now several years past his originally planned release date. He is now likely out there, keeping a low profile and reintegrating into the world after serving his time and maybe even getting back into cooking. However, his disturbing actions will be forever linked to the narrative of his culinary career and subsequent downfall.