Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello Dies at 61


Star chef Michael Chiarello—who helped put Napa Valley on the culinary map and became a pioneering restaurateur, author and TV food personality—died Oct. 6 after an acute allergic reaction led to anaphylactic shock. He was 61.

Chiarello had been hospitalized at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa for several days before his death, according to his company, Gruppo Chiarello. No further details have been released.

Born in Red Bluff, Calif., in 1962, Chiarello developed a passion for cooking in his mother’s kitchen, where he learned the food traditions of his Southern Italian heritage. He went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1982.

In 1987, Chiarello opened Tra Vigne in St. Helena, where he featured the cuisine he learned in his childhood kitchen. The restaurant became hugely successful, attracting local vintners and visitors alike. Wine Spectator hosted its annual Bring Your Own Magnum party there for many years, staring with the first event in 1988. Chiarello departed Tra Vigne in 2001 for new adventures; the restaurant closed in 2015.

Chiarello went on to be a prolific cookbook author and starred in many cooking programs on PBS, Food Network, Fine Living and the Cooking Channel. He also frequented programs such as “Top Chef” and “Next Iron Chef.” In 2003, he won an Emmy for his Food Network television series “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello.”

Olive oil and wine were among Chiarello’s other passions. In the 1990s, he launched Consorzio, a line of flavored oils. For several years, Chiarello farmed 16 acres of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah in St. Helena, bottling the wine under the Chiarello Family Vineyards label. The wines received outstanding scores from Wine Spectator.

Bottega chef and restaurateur Michael Chiarello, left, and Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken celebrated the long history of the magazine’s Bring Your Own Magnum Party in Napa Valley. (Jason Tinacci)

The late 2000s found Chiarello once again at the helm of a Napa Valley hot spot, with the launch of Bottega, a California-Italian restaurant in Yountville. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Bring Your Own Magnum party, Wine Spectator moved to a new Napa venue for the first time—the pavilion next to Bottega—to work with Chiarello again.

Chiarello’s four restaurants—Bottega, Ottimo and Coqueta in Yountville, plus Coqueta in San Francisco—will remain open, according to Gruppo Chiarello.

Funeral arrangements will remain private.

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