The Devastating Death Of Top Chef Alum Howard Kleinberg

Tragedy has struck the "Top Chef" family, per Bravo's The Daily Dish. The Season 3 fan-favorite (and sometimes foil, per Entertainment Weekly), Howard Kleinberg, known as "Chef Howie" to many, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on July 22. The Florida native was just 46 years old, according to his obituary, which appeared in the Miami Herald

At the time of his death, Kleinberg had been working for several months in a new job as executive chef at Coconut Grove, Florida's Peacock Garden Resto Bar & Grill, according to Page Six. Previously, he was the founder and chef-owner of the beloved North Miami, Florida restaurant, Bulldog Barbecue, which delighted diners over a 10-year period with its "hulking platters of pulled pork and beef brisket, along with classic sides such as burnt-end-studded beans and fried pickles," according to the Miami New Times.  

Kleinberg was also a perennial participant in the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, per Legacy. Not only was his participation in this annual event a "great source of pride" for Kleinberg (per Legacy), but it was also the means by which he was "discovered," as they say in show biz. "He was still a young, unknown chef when Terry Zarikian, culinary director of the South Beach food festival, recommended Kleinberg for Season 3 of 'Top Chef' in 2007," according to the Miami Herald. And apparently, it wasn't just his mad barbecue skills of which the show's casting directors took note. 

Kleinberg had a reputation for being a loveable bulldog

According to Howie Kleinberg's mother, Susan Kleinberg Ratner, the chef was plucked from obscurity in part because he was perceived as a "tough-guy instigator who would take no guff," per the Miami Herald. Cast as "the heavy," Kleinberg Ratner explained, Chef Howie didn't disappoint, quickly establishing himself as a "hothead" who "pulled no punches" (per ScreenRant). It's how he got his nickname, "Bulldog," the moniker he gave to his beloved barbecue restaurant, which not only served up some of Miami's favorite barbecue but also ventured into the gourmet burger business starting in 2011, cementing Bulldog Barbecue as what the Miami New Times refers to as a "bona fide meat lover's paradise" and Kleinberg himself as Miami's "most successful 'Top Chef' alum."

"The 'Top Chef' family is saddened to learn about the unexpected passing of Howard Kleinberg from Season 3," Bravo said in a statement. "Howie's passion for cooking filled so many and our deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends." 

Kleinberg Ratner told the Miami Herald that her son had a genuine passion for cooking that developed from an early age. His father, Wally, who died at a heart attack at age 34, owned a hot dog company, and his mother was an event planner who frequently worked alongside caterers. It was through one of his mother's connections that Kleinberg secured one of his first restaurant jobs at Miami's Hotel Intercontinental.