Welcome to Michael Chiarello-land
Michael Chiarello in the raw space of his upcoming
I’ve met some TV stars of the culinary sort: Mario Batali (ok, I didn’t really meet him; like a stalker, I snapped a picture of him as he was riding a bike during the Aspen Food & Wine Classic), Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart, Cat Cora and Tyler Florence. Interestingly, some seem to keep up their persona off camera (Tyler, Martha, Cat), while Jacques Pepin was a whole different person. Much more serious and political and just pretty damn cool—not at all the sweet French grandpa you never had.
It turns out that Michael Chiarello—the host of the Food Network’s “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello” and former executive chef of eight restaurants, most famously Tra Vigne—falls into the former category. At 46, he’s pretty smooth. A couple weeks ago, I met up with him for the opening of his flagship NapaStyle store in Yountville. The father of four (a 2 ½ year old boy and three girls, 17, 20, and 23) is aging well in a appropriately NapaStyle kind of way: With his salt-and-pepper hair cropped short and tan with perfect wrinkles, he was wearing a great chartreuse apron slung low and spotless white chef’s coat (“I don’t get dirty when I cook,” he said).
NapaStyle's new flagship store.
As he played a gracious host, opening the door for visitors, Chiarello showed me around the shop. Then we went for a tour of the Chiarello compound, which includes his upcoming restaurant, located just across the walkway from the store, in the former V Marketplace (formerly the Chutney Kitchen), and peaked into another facility where he’s filming his shows (classes will be taught there soon, from what I understand). The Turlock native, by way Southern Italy, gamely answered my questions.
What is the style of Napa?
NapaStyle was never for people living in Napa, but it’s a sense of casual elegance. A strong texture … It’s an inclusive, inspirational place.
Tell me about some of your favorite products that you’re selling at NapaStyle.
My daughter and I made some apricot black-anise marmalata. There’s lavender honey, lavender salt. Napa fennel pollen, Alain Milliat passion fruit nectar—we love it with prosecco. Some mind-bending smoked olive oil. Vintage flatware and vintage china. I love a PB&J on vintage china.
There’s so much here. Do you source it all yourself?
I used to but now [my staff] know what I’m looking for. They’ll send me images from their iPhone.
How many people get your catalog?
A couple million a year.
You make your own wine, Chiarello Family Vineyards. Why is your Petite Sirah called “Roux”?
It’s named after my daugheter. We called her Roux because she was thick-headed.
You’re curing your own charcuterie—legally.
Yeah, we have the first official curing room in the state of California. I called up the [health inspector] and said, You made me hide it for all those years at Tra Vigne, tell me everything I need to do to make this legal.
Thoughts on your upcoming restaurant?
I love cuts of meat that don’t have to cost $72 per person. Branzino in grey salt that I bring out with a hammer and break it open. No pizzas.