Sunday, November 2, 2008

Food Personality Memo: From Farmer's Son to Chef, Specialty Foods Entrepreneur, TV Host, Vintner, Retailer and More, Michael Chiarello's Got Game

At age 46, Michael Chiarello (pictured above on his tractor at his winery) has already had more than three of four lifetime's worth of careers -- all revolving around the concept of good food, wine and the Napa Valley Lifestyle.

Chiarello, who lives in Napa Valley, California and was raised on the family farm in California's San Joaquin Valley, started his career working in restaurants in Turlock, California at the ripe young age of 14.

After finishing high school he went to the Culinary Academy of America in Hyde Park, New York, which is one of the top cooking schools in the United States.

Shortly after graduating, at age 20 he opened two restaurants in Florida. At 23 he was named by Food & Wine Magazine as its American chef of the year. He was a young man in a hurry.

At 24, Michael Chiarello returned to his native California in 1986, settling in the Napa Valley wine country where he opened Tra Vigne, a restaurant that achieved national and international attention and helped to bring the concept of the Napa Lifestyle to millions throughout the world.

Chiarello opened other restaurants in the Napa area. He also diversified in becoming a specialty and natural foods entrepreneur. He was one of the founders of the Consorsio specialty-natural foods company and created the Consorsio brand of olive oils, marinades, condiments and other specialty foods products that today have national distribution in the U.S. He longer has an ownership stake in the company.

The food and lifestyle entrepreneur also started an artisan baking company; his own winery, Chiarello Family Vineyards; has opened restaurants in Aspen, Colorado, Scottsdale, Arizona and San Francisco, in addition to the Napa Valley; become a television show host on the Food Network and the Fine Living Network; authors food and lifestyle books; and started and now runs six stores called NapaStyle. The stores sell kitchenware, specialty foods, wines, and other lifestyle-oriented products all centered around the concept of the Napa Valley food and wine lifestyle.

Chiarello has personally been out of the restaurant kitchen himself for a few years now. Reading the above list of what he's been up to pretty much explains why that's the case.

However, it's now back to the kitchen for the Napa Valley food, wine and lifestyle multi-tasker. Along with the long list of food-related ventures on his plate, Chiarello is getting ready to open a new restaurant -- and personally get back in the kitchen to do some cooking. That new restaurant is called Bottega. He calls the new restaurant, located in Yountville next door to Napa, his most personal restaurant to date.

The Sacramento Bee newspaper has a profile of Michael Chiarello and his new restaurant, along with discussing all of his other food business activities and ventures. The piece captures the chef-entrepreneur well. You can read the story, "The good life: With passion and style here.

Starting soon Michael Chiarello will be juggling more than his nearly one dozen careers; all related to food and wine of course. Returning to the kitchen he will get to once again juggle orders, pots and pans and the demands of running a very personal restaurant.

It's a reinvention of sorts for Chiarello. Or perhaps better put, he is going to back to his future.

What we suspect though is it will end up being another chapter of his ongoing effort to define and redefine what has become known as the Napa Valley Lifestyle, a good life revolving around good food, quality wines, fresh foods, sunshine and family.

We look forward to his contribution to that next chapter. And with the death earlier this year of the legendary Robert Mondavi, the spokesman-and-chief for the Napa Valley Lifestyle, Michael Chiarello's role in helping to further define and promote that lifestyle, and the businesses that comprise it, has gotten even more important.

[Photo Credit: The photograph of Michael Chiarello at the top of this piece is by Michael Allen Jones, courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.]

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