Everything just tastes better when it comes with a story. My mission has always been to help our guests and consumers discover and understand the difference between the taste and the flavor of something. Taste is what is immediately recognized, while the flavor component is what you connect with emotionally and intellectually, not just physically. A glass of wine can taste so much better if you know the story of the vineyard behind it. There is a richness of flavor that comes with each background of a product or dish or book, knowing each community that makes it happen. At bottega, we strive to make every diner’s experience great. It’s not just about what’s on the plate but what happens before the dishes are even created—the ingredients, the techniques, and then how it is served. Every business I am involved with shares that need to tell its story, including the business of who I am and why cooking and food is so important to me. Even the story of the evolution of Napa Valley—how each chapter of this amazing area unfolds is so crucial to understanding the whole picture of what we do and why we do it. And so this magazine brings together all the components that make up my life, and how they work together to create the family that I now share with you. —Michael Chiarello
Many chefs will point to family as a major influence on their culinary careers, but Chef Michael Chiarello takes it to a new level. “Although I was born and raised in central California, my passion for Italian cooking comes from my mother, who taught me the Calabrian traditions of food and family. As a kid, a lot of the time I spent with her revolved around cooking— not only picking fresh vegetables in the garden, canning and preserving, but also interacting with what I call our extended family—the local butchers, cheesemakers, and ranchers. These experiences are an integral part of me and continue to shape who I am today.”
Now with four children of his own, three daughters and a young son, food remains an intimate part of all their lives—so much so that his youngest daughter, Giana, recently announced that she wanted to be a chef and this fall is preparing to enter the Culinary Institute of America, where Chiarello was recently named 2011 Alumni of the Year. (He is a CIA graduate of 1982 and was the recipient of their Chef of the Year Award in 1995.)
While all of his children might not be involved directly in the industry, they each weigh heavily on Chiarello’s culinary mind. In fact, he named the different parcels of Chiarello Family Vineyards after them and his wife, Eileen, according to how each varietal reflects their unique personalities.
Chiarello’s roots are now firmly planted in Napa Valley soil. This is his home, the place he has raised his family and cultivated his grapes and his clientele. It is where it all came together: his passion for a food-centric life in a place with abundant like-minded artisans to feed his soul and his business. “Something magical happens when you come to Napa Valley, in the way you receive information. When you get out of a big city like Los Angeles or New York, you can really exhale and inhale something new and fresh. Your receptors open up to things you can’t get at home.” And part of the experience that he offers through all of his businesses is that of enjoying Napa Valley and everything it has to offer.
“I really believe Napa Valley is not a monoculture: it is not just about wine. There’s life beyond the glass. In fact, now it’s even more than food and wine; it’s about other passionate enjoyments too, like filmmaking.” As the Napa Valley story continues to grow, with a Napa Valley Film Festival debuting in November, Chiarello is happy to lend his support to making it a success. Napa Valley might be his home, but he has no problem making everyone feel like family.