Celebrity chef, Napa Valley restaurateur Michael Chiarello dies at 61

ByKelly McCarthy ABCNews logo
Monday, October 9, 2023
Celebrity chef, Napa Valley restaurateur Michael Chiarello dies at 61
Chef and restaurateur Michael Chiarello died at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, California, on Friday.

Famed California chef and restaurateur Michael Chiarello has died at 61.

Chiarello died Friday surrounded by family and friends at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, California, where he had been treated over the past week for "an acute allergic reaction that led to anaphylactic shock," his restaurant group, Gruppo Chiarello, announced in a news release Saturday.

"We deeply mourn the loss of our beloved patriarch Michael. His culinary brilliance, boundless creativity, and unwavering commitment to family were at the core of his being," Chiarello's family said in a statement. "He brought people together through the joy of shared meals, fostering lasting memories around the table."

"As we navigate this profound loss, we hold dear the moments we cherished with him, both in his kitchens and in our hearts," the family's statement continued. "His legacy will forever live on in the love he poured into every dish and the passion he instilled in all of us to savor life's flavors."

Chef Michael Chiarello attends Day 1 of the 3rd Annual Yountville Live - Music Food & Wine Festival on March 16, 2017 in Yountville, California.
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

ABC News reached out to Gruppo Chiarello for further comment on Chiarello's death but did not immediately hear back.

The Italian American chef and former Food Network host, who was born in Red Bluff, California, and raised in the Central Valley, built a small empire of acclaimed restaurants in both San Francisco and Napa Valley, starting with Tra Vigne in 1987.

Chiarello made his mark with food that perfectly combined his Southern Italian roots with distinctive hallmarks of the Napa Valley, fusing Californian and Italian cuisine.

"What keeps me motivated is not the food itself but all the bonds and memories the food represents," Chiarello wrote in his cookbook "The Tra Vigne Cookbook: Seasons in the California Wine Country," first published in September 1999.

Chiarello's profound impact on the culinary world reverberated with tributes on social media over the weekend from his esteemed chef friends and colleagues across the hospitality industry.

Chef Thomas Keller, owner of The French Laundry -- which is a six minute walk from Chiarello's famed Yountville restaurant Bottega -- shared a touching tribute on Instagram to his longtime neighbor, dear friend and colleague.

"Michael's great love for food and entertaining, the warmth he exuded, and the laughter he shared with our community left an indelible mark," Keller wrote in the post's caption. "Chef Michael, your enduring legacy lives on. Thank you for your friendship and for all your contributions to our profession. Sending love and peace to your entire family and your dedicated team."

Chiarello graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in 1982, and went on to receive his bachelor's degree in hospitality management from Florida International University in 1984.

From there, Chiarello blazed a trail for Californian and Italian cuisine over his 40 year career as a chef and restaurateur, in which he developed more than 10 restaurants, starting with Toby's in Miami, and was named Chef of the Year by Food & Wine magazine.

A few of his other top culinary accolades include being named the Culinary Institute of America's Alumni of the Year in 2011, Chef of the Year by Esquire in 2013, James Beard finalist in the same year for Best New Restaurant, and garnering a glowing 3.5 star review by the San Francisco Chronicle for his Spanish restaurant Coqueta on Pier 5.

He hosted two hit shows, the Emmy Award-winning Food Network series "Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello," which was set among the beautiful wine country backdrop at Trefethen Winery, and "NapaStyle" on the Fine Living Network. He also appeared in other culinary shows on PBS and the Cooking Channel, and later made it to the finals as a runner-up on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" in 2009. He also finished in third place on the Food Network competition show "The Next Iron Chef" in 2011.