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DELICIOSO! Known primarily for his ItalianAmerican fare, Chiarello returns to the kitchen this spring to try his hand at Spanish cuisine.



During recent travels to Barcelona, award-winning Italian-American chef Michael Chiarello fell madly in love with Spain’s cuisine and culture. This spring, his infatuation takes the shape of a new San Francisco restaurant and a renewed affair with his first love: the kitchen. BY heather john fogarty



michael chiarello January 26, 1962 Founded Tra Vigne in 1986, created his Chiarello Family Vineyards winery in 1999, launched NapaStyle retail line of artisanal foods in 2000, chef/owner of Bottega Ristorante in Napa Valley and Coqueta in San Francisco. Known for Chef Chiarello is an acclaimed chef, EmmyAward winning host of Food Network’s “Easy Entertaining,” tastemaker behind NapaStyle and proprietor of Chiarello Family Vineyards. Born


There are those who make their mark doing one thing really well, and then there is Chef Michael Chiarello. An Emmy-Award winning television host, celebrated chef, restaurateur, author, vintner and purveyor of artisanal foods, Chiarello is one of the culinary world’s most respected and accomplished impresarios. The longtime Napa Valley resident is known for combining his Italian roots with a wine country lifestyle. This spring he opens Coqueta, a Spanish restaurant on the San Francisco waterfront, and releases Live Fire, his new book about cooking with an open flame. We recently caught up with Chiarello, 51, to talk about his unexpected love affair with Spain, farming the old-fashioned way and playing with fire. We think of Michael Chiarello, and we think Italy. But your new restaurant, Coqueta, is Spanish. Why Spain? Good question. My eldest daughter is married and lives in Barcelona, which is one of the great cities of the world. I started making trips to visit her, and then I started traveling once or twice a year to Spain to scout and develop products for NapaStyle, my online store and catalog. I went where the artisans were, and I began to fall in love with the food. It’s so unlike Japanese or even French, which I was trained in. The food made perfect sense; it translates well to what I’ve been doing. Have you forsaken Italy for Spain? The ingredients in both cuisines are similar. It’s more of a dialect shift than anything else. I named the new restaurant Coqueta, which means “an infatuation.” It’s all the excitement you have when you are discovering something new. I’m 51. Spain is my midlife crisis—my Porsche 911.

IMAGES courtesy of chiarello PRESS SHOTS

We’re talking from an undisclosed TV set in Los Angeles. Anything we can share?

Will this be a lasting love affair or just a fling? There’s an interesting correlation between three places that I adore. There’s Florence and the Chianti region. Then there’s San Francisco with Napa Valley and Sonoma in its backyard. Then there’s Barcelona, which is a seaside city like San Francisco surrounded by wine regions making cava. There is something about an exquisite city surrounded by vineyards— and a lifestyle that is similar.

Not yet. I’m looking for the perfect show. Keep your eyes peeled. You’re known for so many things—your restaurants, cookbooks, television shows, artisanal food products and winery. What is your greatest passion? It all centers around cooking. I’m a chef, first and foremost. I have other inspirations, but food is my passion. My other projects, such as the Consorzio line of specialty foods I created and used at my Napa restaurant Tra Vigne and sold to customers, were part of sharing a unique dining experience that people could take into their own home kitchens. As I spent more and more time designing food products and hard goods for the restaurant, I developed a point of view through the filter of the Napa Valley. And NapaStyle grew out of that.

Speaking of wine, you make your own. Do you make your wine to go with your food, or vice versa? How I farm is how I cook. I’ve been an organic farmer since 1997 on 20 acres of vineyard in St. Helena, where we live. We create the wine to go with the style of food we serve. We have some 100-year-old vineyards— some Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. We make a crazy white wine, Chiara Bianco, from an Italian grape called Ribolla Gialla. I can make a wine that goes with my restaurants and food, and so we can dream up interesting blends and combinations and varietals. Our wine is literally farm-to-table, which has become such a cliché. “Farm-totable” is nothing new. It’s a centuries-old approach. It’s how they’ve always done it in the Old World. The closer you are to farming, the closer you are to better food.


The artisanal food products and housewares you curate at NapaStyle have such an appealing aesthetic. How would you describe “Napa style”? Napa Valley has a strong European sense; it always has. There are influences from Spain—the Spanish planted some of the first vineyards— from Germany with Schramsberg, and also lots of Italians and lots of French. Geographically Napa lends itself to a more northern Italian sensibility, but it’s less about a specific aesthetic and more about a feeling—a lifestyle. Is it true you like to play with fire? Yes. My new book, Live Fire, comes out in May. Every restaurant I’ve done has involved some sort of wood fire and using smoke to create dishes. The book explores the techniques of cooking over a live flame—both on the fire and in the fire, but not in the barbecue sense. I use techniques like cooking vegetables in the coals and turning them into a dish, or building a fire and cooking a whole lamb over metal crosses in an Argentinian way. I wanted to explore the social aspects of cooking over fire. There’s nothing more inviting than a cool night and friends gathered cooking and eating around a live fire.


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