Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch with Chef Michael Chiarello. Chatting About Top Chef, Good Television, Flavors, and More.

It isn't often that I get the chance to meet and greet a celeb chef, especially when he's not based in Los Angeles, so when an invitation came to meet Top Chef Master finalist Michael Chiarello, I took it despite the fact that I had to drive all the way to OC on a weekday afternoon.

The meet and greet took place at his Napa Style store in South Coast Plaza. When I arrived, he hadn't come out yet, but I was happy to see fellow LA blogger Mattatouille there already partaking in some of Chiarello's fine wines.

I've had his five wines during the blogger event a couple of months ago and really enjoyed all of them, so I was quite happy to partake again. This time they are serving the Eileen (Cabernet, named after his wife) and Roux (old vine Petit Syrah, named after one of his daughters - these vines are 97 years old and are the oldest vines in Napa).

While waiting for Chiarello to come out and lunch to be served, I made my way around the impressive spread of bread, dips, and cured meats which are available for purchase at the store.
Soon after the store manager started bringing in lunch, which was made from Chiarello's recipes and prepared at another South Coast Plaza restaurant for this event. Our simple but delicious lunch consisted of vegetable pizza and cauliflower alla parmigiana.
Since the lunch was at the Napa Style store where samples of various products are available, we had the brilliant idea of sprinkling some of their Truffle Salt on our cauliflowers. So. Good.
To finish off were two trays of chocolates, all of them are (of course) sold at Napa Style including Valerie's salt and pepper truffles.
There were also Rabitos chocolate fig bonbons that I really like.

Chef Chiarello came wearing casual clothing and a big smile, and many of the media people in attendance immediately went over to chat with him. I couldn't hustle through his older fans, so I just waited until later.

Chiarello was quite charismatic and an entertaining speaker, throwing various jokes and anecdotes (one of his quotes of the day: "I'm not particularly artistic but I am crafty.")

As expected, most of the questions revolved around his experience in the Top Chef Master competition - including how the editing process to create "good television" gave a very different impression than what actually happened.
The rest of the conversation traversed through his experience going out to see rabbits with daughter Giana who grew up seeing an ecosystem come to life, to juggling the demands of organic wine growing vs what is financially feasible. According to Chiarello, advocates for organic movement demand certain things but do not realize that means an extra $1 million investment for wine growers like Chiarello. Still committed to organic practices, Chiarello is working on an electric tractor for his vineyard.

His decision to open the Napa Style stores celebrates the increasing return of American consumers to the home kitchen (thanks to the recessions). The products available at Napa Style gave home cooks access to the same high quality and distinct artisan products Chiarello uses in his kitchen such as his various natural and flavored salts and olive oils. As for his selection of these products, Chiarello emphasizes what he calls "flavor" rather than taste, "flavors" that came about from the individuals involved in the creation process itself.

He also spoke of his experiences as a chef up until now, starting from Florida to his return to California with Tra Vigne in Napa and his latest restaurant, Bottega. To celebrate Bottega's anniversary last week, they held an all-week truffle menu! If only it was closer to Los Angeles ...


Food GPS

Good write-up. Looks like a great lunch. I definitely need to visit Bottega in the near future.


I was thinking about checking this out. Who ended up attending other than you and Matt?


FoodGPS: Me too, now that I've done my Napa TK rounds, Bottega is next!

Kevin: No one that I know, perhaps OC bloggers and/or pro journalists?

Marcus & Keisha

Great to get his insight on organic wine production and cost. He is an icon in the making!


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