Food Network star Michael Chiarello, who launched his decades-long career as a chef and restaurateur in Northern California’s Napa Valley, died on Friday, October 6, after suffering an acute allergic reaction that led to anaphylactic shock, the AP reports. The chef had been hospitalized at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa while “receiving treatment for the allergic reaction over the past week.” The Mercury News reports that neither doctors nor Chiarello’s family know what caused the allergic reaction.
The chef’s restaurants in San Francisco and Napa Valley, which include Coqueta at Pier 5 and Bottega, Ottimo, and Coquetta in Yountville, remain open.
Friends, family, and fellow culinary stars including chef Emeril Lagasse took to social media to mourn the chef’s passing at 61 years old. In an Instagram post on Monday, fellow Food Network chef Geoffrey Zakarian shared fond memories of working with the chef on Iron Chef and offered condolences to Chiarello’s family. “His love of life was wrapped around food and family and his pioneering blend of impossibly delicious California and Italian food will always live on,” the post reads in part.
Chiarello grew up in Turlock in California’s Central Valley before attending culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though he opened his first restaurant in Miami, his career truly launched when he was named executive chef at Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena in 1987, when Chiarello was 24 years old. As pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle’s timeline of Chiarello’s career, Tra Vigne is where Chiarello established himself as one of the most influential chefs in Napa Valley.
Chiarello went on to open his winery, Chiarello Family Vineyards, and publish several cookbooks, but wasn’t until the 1990s and early 2000s that he began reaching national stardom, opening additional restaurants in California, Colorado, and Arizona. He left Tra Vigne in 2001, two years before breaking into the media scene with his own Food Network show, “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello.” In the decades after, Chiarello became a regular face on a number of food shows and competitions including “Next Iron Chef” and “Chopped.”
In 2016, however, two former employees of Coqueta in San Francisco filed a lawsuit accusing Chiarello and other management-level employees of creating an allegedly “sexually charged, hostile, and abusive environment,” Eater reported at the time. The lawsuits specifically accused the chef of “regularly” making “sexual comments about female customers to his employees,” among other allegations. A second lawsuit alleged that Chiarello and his restaurant group Gruppo Chiarello “failed to pay wages and overtime, manipulated clocks and timesheets and forced front of the house employees to pool their tips with the kitchen staff.” Later that year, he made headlines again after being arrested in Napa for driving under the influence of alcohol and the possession of a controlled substance.
Chiarello is survived by his wife, Eileen, and four children.