His passion for cooking started when he was a kid growing up in Southern California. “My dad was a chef in San Diego, and I started cooking with him in his kitchen at 13,” he said. “It was a big inspiration for me.”

At age 17, Ruiz entered the San Diego Culinary Institute. After graduating, he went to work in Spain at such Michelin-starred restaurants as Ni Neu in San Sebastian, which focuses on contemporary Basque cuisine. He left Spain and came to Denver to help a friend open Hops & Pie in the Berkeley neighborhood. He’d planned to return to California but got hooked by Denver’s culinary boom. He began staging at restaurants around town. At Fruition, he prepared a four-course tasting for chef-owner Alex Seidel, who immediately hired him as sous chef. Since then, he’s won two local culinary competitions, including the People’s Choice award for best food and wine pairing at the Denver International Wine Festival, put on by the Wine Country Network.