Going for gold
The Puglia-born chef conquered a tough jury of Michelin-starred chefs during the Italian selection.
Accademia Bocuse d'Or Italia
"Italy deserves the Olympic podium. We've always made the mistake in attempting to replicate a French, high-sounding cuisine but we need to impose the Italian style, a blend of tradition, creativity and innovation," says Ruggieri.
Victory would mean ending years of humiliation for Italy, during which France's chefs have ruled elite world cuisine.
Rivalry, it seems, can be a great motivator.
"The French aren't better than us, they're just good at marketing what they have", says Ruggieri.
"Our cuisine is simpler, but with stronger flavors than the French one. All we need to do is make it refined, with its own Italian style."
Chef Giuseppe Raciti, who was defeated by Ruggieri in the Italian Bocuse d'Or rounds, thinks French cuisine is "more classical but heavier to digest: ours is lighter and healthier because Mediterranean."
Italian cooks don't use butter like the French, but extra virgin olive oil.
"The French are so nationalistic and proud", adds chef Paolo Griffa, another top contender who lost out to Ruggieri.
"They'll never admit that no other country in the world has our premium products."
While Italy never made it to any Bocuse d'Or grand final, France has won the gold medal seven time. Norway has taken it on five occasions.
Even the United States managed to secure the prize in 2017 with Mathew Peters, executive sous chef at New York restaurant Per Se.
It's like a football world championship, Italy may get to the semi-finals but then it's game over, says Francesco Oberto, Michelin-starred chef at Da Francesco restaurant in Cherasco, who isn't above some culinary fighting talk.
"The French are so stuck up, they flip out when it comes to the Bocuse d'Or," he adds.
Fellow Italian chef Matteo Baronetto, "the French are more precise than us, technical, with the risk of turning cold and ascetic. Italians are creative, we improvise and don't follow the rules."