By his own admission, the sentiment never was at the forefront of his mind. But nearly two years after an accident sent him to a trauma center in Miami for more than 50 days, Ralph Pagano understands as well as anyone that life can change in a flash.
The restaurateur whose “Naked” titles made him a household name in the South Florida industry had expanded his brand to Bimini in June 2017. Pagano—who had honed his craft in New York, appearing on TV shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Iron Chef” and “Pressure Cook” along the way—was inspecting his Naked Taco restaurant at Resorts World in the Bahamas when an explosion rocked the kitchen during a training session. Pagano spent nearly two months recovering from third-degree burns to his face, hands and legs at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center.
“I never saw myself as dead. I never realized my own mortality. I never had a true and frank conversation with myself and said, ‘All right, when you die, this is what’s going to be left,’ ” Pagano says. “When I saw the gas ignite … the last few hours of my life flashed before my eyes, and I thought to myself, ‘What an unceremonious way to die.’ ”
Pagano’s focus after the accident became balance, a theme that also speaks to his return to television. He recently joined the Lifetime morning show, “The Balancing Act,” where he takes viewers on foodie-inspired travels around South Florida in a customized Airstream for his “Ralph on the Road” segments.
His latest venture isn’t the only thing that reflects his renewed sense of purpose. He trimmed his restaurants to just two—Naked Crab at B Ocean Resort in Fort Lauderdale and Naked Taco in Miami Beach—and restructured his work schedule to allow more time for family.
Before the explosion, he says, he would work until midnight six days of the week; on the seventh day, he would sleep. Now, his schedule is centered around his wife, Buffy (whom he married in 2015), and their twins.
“I drive my son to school every morning, I kiss my daughter, share a cup of coffee” with his wife, he says. “We laugh, and we have a little bit of time together.” He runs and enjoys yoga and Pilates to keep his mind and his body centered. He’s lost 30 pounds in the process.
Check out thebalancingact.com to see Pagano’s foodie adventures in Wynwood, Boca Raton and other stops.