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Michael Chiarello, Renowned Chef and Food Network Personality, Passes Away at 61

Michael Chiarello, a well-known chef from California’s Central Valley, has passed away at the age of 61. Chiarello was known for his culinary skills and ability to market himself on TV, becoming an icon of Italian-influenced Northern California cuisine and the Napa Valley lifestyle. He died in Napa on Friday due to an acute allergic reaction that led to anaphylactic shock. The cause of the reaction is currently unknown.

Chiarello was part of a generation of Northern California chefs who broke away from traditional continental cuisine in the 1980s. They focused on using local seasonal produce, homemade cheese, and wine, embracing the “farm to table” concept before it became popular. However, Chiarello’s career was marred by a #MeToo scandal when two servers filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him and his restaurant company in 2016. Although the case was settled out of court, his reputation suffered, and his television opportunities dwindled.

Michael Dominic Chiarello was born on January 26, 1962, in Red Bluff, California, and grew up in Turlock, a farming town in the Sacramento Valley. He learned his earliest culinary lessons from his mother and worked in a restaurant while attending high school. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and Florida International University, Chiarello gained national recognition for his cooking, opening his first restaurant in Miami in 1984 and being named Food & Wine magazine’s chef of the year in 1985. However, his career choice wasn’t initially well-received by his family.

Chiarello’s career took off when he caught the attention of Cindy Pawlcyn, who was looking for someone to run a new restaurant called Tra Vigne in St. Helena. Known for his ambition and charm, Chiarello met a lot of influential people at Tra Vigne, including renowned winemakers and celebrities. This opportunity paved the way for Chiarello to expand his empire, which included multiple restaurants, an olive oil company, a winery, and a retail business.

In 2001, Chiarello left Tra Vigne to pursue a career in media and merchandise. He hosted his first TV show, “Season by Season,” on PBS and opened NapaStyle, a website and retail stores where he sold various specialty foods, cookware, and wine. He later joined the Food Network, hosting shows like “Easy Entertaining With Michael Chiarello” and appearing as a competitor and judge on “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.” In addition to his TV career, Chiarello wrote eight books, including “The Tra Vigne Cookbook.”

Despite his success, Chiarello faced allegations of sexual harassment. In 2016, two servers at his restaurant Coqueta sued him, claiming a sexually charged atmosphere and inappropriate behavior. Chiarello denied the charges but settled the case out of court. He is survived by his three daughters, a son, two brothers, and two grandchildren.

Throughout his career, Chiarello was not only known for his cooking skills but also for his ability to promote Napa Valley as a lifestyle and brand. He was regarded as a talented cook, a master marketer, and an exceptionally charming individual. Despite his professional accomplishments, Chiarello always prioritized his family and ensuring their stories were remembered, emphasizing the importance of spending time with loved ones over business endeavors.

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