The green light of cancer has since opened up one new doorway after another for Rueffert.
He and fellow chef Steve McDonagh — they became friends on the reality TV show — have created the “But I Digest Podcast” to tout healthy cooking and ingredients.
The offbeat names of episodes (“Quinoa, Golden Spades and Pet Humans” or “Nutmeg, Admiral Russell and Eyeball Intoxication”) clue listeners to the pair’s entertaining approach to food topics.
McDonagh is a Chicago caterer, restaurateur, actor and cookbook author. His cocktail book, “The New Old Bar: Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks from The Hearty Boys,” is partially focused on pre-Prohibition cocktails. He’s now been friends with Rueffert for nearly two decades.
“Hans is a smart chef,” McDonagh says. “He knows a little about everything and a lot about a bunch. I can always look to him to fill me in on unexpected nuggets of information. And he’s a master German cook. He brought me some fig mustard that I hoard for special occasions.”
In 2009, just four years after his diagnosis, Rueffert published “Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow,” a cookbook spiced with Amy’s gorgeous food photos. Cannon feels it’s a vivid example of how a person can take a traumatic blow and make it positive.
“I love Hans’ book, and I use it often,” Cannon says. “I love it not just for the beautiful photography and exquisite food knowledge but for the strong message of valuing family, friends and yourself. To me, this book captures Hans’ spirit of survival, determination, optimism and love of life.”
Rueffert’s current food philosophy evolved from what he calls his “Hans 2.0” digestive system.
“Since it’s harder for me to actually get the nutrition out of food now, I have to stay with certain kinds of meals,” he says. “It’s actually strengthened my love for food. My life is no longer about the quantity of food I eat, but about the quality of food I eat.
“I want whatever I just ate to always be something I would be 100 percent happy about if it were my last meal.”
Rueffert mostly consumes raw or semi-raw foods, fresh vegetables and fruit. His meals are about 10 percent protein. He likes “power bowls,” such as artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, spinach-and-rocket pesto, capers and olives. The Hans 2.0 system makes him an instant barometer of food quality: Within minutes of eating, he’ll feel energized by healthy foods or heavy and bad after sugary or greasy foods.
“The Gesundheit Kitchen” offers videos of Rueffert conjuring up favorite recipes: okra and tempeh, hummus, healthy pizza, chili and many more.
The food he crushes on most right now? Quinoa.
“Nutritionally,” he says, “it’s the perfect human chow. If I had pet humans, and I were buying a bag of food, I’d come home with quinoa.”
Whatever he’s serving, Rueffert makes sure his food is only part of the experience.
“If you get near Hans, he will try to feed you while talking your ear off,” says Amy. “Lord, the man can talk. Luckily, he’s smart and interesting, and hospitality is in his blood. Hans even got certified to marry people so he could feed them and marry them.”
Rueffert joyfully embraces all he symbolizes as a chef and as a survivor.
“I love an underdog story,” he says. “With my dad’s kidney disease, I was raised in an underdog story. Then I became an underdog story, too. We all do, sooner or later. We all become somebody who must overcome the odds.”
Rueffert is proud to be that somebody.
“I like the lighthouse effect,” he says. “Shining bright for others is, in my view, almost an obligation for people who survive.
“All our stories end with an obituary. To me, helping people along the way is the whole point of life. I get the greatest satisfaction hearing people say I helped them get through this or that obstacle. It means the world to me.”