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Turlock native, celebrity chef Michael Chiarello dies at 61
Michael Chiarello
Michael Chiarello was born in 1962 in Turlock. Family meals and keeping to his Calabrian roots gave Chiarello a solid culinary base and gave him a lifelong passion for bringing the best seasonal and sustainably grown foods to his restaurant guests. Chiarello died Friday at the age of 61 (Photo contributed).

Michael Chiarello, the Emmy-winning celebrity chef whose culinary roots took shape as a child growing up in Turlock, died on Friday. He was 61 years old.

Chiarello’s death was attributed to an allergic reaction that resulted in anaphylactic shock. He had been at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa receiving treatment for the allergic reaction over the past week. Details on how he developed the allergic reaction were not immediately available.

“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 restaurant group Gruppo Chiarello said in a statement. “In remembrance, we ask that you join us in celebrating his remarkable journey and the incredible impact he had on the world of food, wine, and family by inviting you to share a meal with your family and friends to remind all of us that the bonds forged over a meal are among life’s most precious treasures.”

Chiarello was born in 1962 in Turlock. Family meals and keeping to their Calabrian roots by making their own cheeses and wines, butchering and curing their own meats, and growing and preserving their own produce gave Chiarello a solid culinary base and gave him a lifelong passion for bringing the best seasonal and sustainably grown foods to his restaurant guests.

“When you have a relationship with your food then every bite is like remembering some adventure,” Chiarello said in 2014 in an interview for 209 Magazine. “The idea of knowing where it came from or growing it yourself enhances the flavor of every bite.

“I was a farm fresh boy growing up in Turlock,” Chiarello recalled during the interview. “My family kept to their Italian traditions, especially when it came to food. Happiness for us was gathering at the table and celebrating what each season had given us.”

Chiarello said he learned his cooking skills working in the family kitchen alongside his mother. But it was a rather unappetizing meal of crickets that actually inspired him to become a chef.

“I did it on a dare,” Chiarello said in the interview. “My mother wasn’t too pleased with that. Later, I remember in first grade when the teacher asked us all what we did over the summer, I told about eating the crickets and how I wanted to be a cook one day.”

By his teens Chiarello was honing his skills at Turlock restaurants. He soon ventured away from his Turlock home and California to study at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduation he started coursework at the Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and by age 22 he had opened his first restaurant, Toby’s in Miami and one year later he was named “Food and Magazine’s” Chef of the Year.

In 1986, his love for California called him home, and he moved to Napa Valley, where he helped design and open Tra Vigne Restaurant. There, he refined what would become his unique cooking style: Italian-influenced Wine Country cuisine.

Chiarello would go on to open various restaurants around Napa Valley and San Francisco, including Coqueta, Ottimo and Bottega. He also owned the Chiarello Family Vineyards in Yountville, California. Bottega was named Best Newcomer by Zagat in 2008 and was selected as one of America’s best new restaurants by both Forbes and Esquire.

The success of Tra Vigne set Chiarello on a path that would see him named as the managing partner of Tra Vigne’s collection of seven restaurants and create Consorizo, his line of infused olive oils that remains a bestseller. The success of his olive oil line helped launch a new title for Chiarello — author. His first book was “Flavored Oils: 50 Recipes for Cooking with Infused Oils” was followed by one detailing vinegars and a host of cookbooks, including the “Tra Vigne Cookbook.”

Chiarello turned his attention to the wine grapes growing in abundance in the Napa Valley. He started sustainably farming 20-acres of grapes at his home and in 1998 he released the first bottles of wine from Chiarello Family Vineyards.

In 1995, Chiarello received the Culinary Institute of America’s Chef of the Year Award. In 2011, he was part of Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef” competition, “Supermarket Superstar” on Lifetime and a judge on “Chopped.” He was named Esquire magazine’s Chef of the Year for 2013.

He won an Emmy Award for best host for “Easy Entertaining With Michael Chiarello” and appeared on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.”

His books included “LiveFire Cookbook,” “The Tra Vigne Cookbook,” ”Michael Chiarello’s Bottega,” “Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking,” “Napa Stories” and “Flavored Vinegars.”

Chiarello expanded his culinary empire in 2000 when he launched NapaStyle, an online retail and catalog enterprise specializing in culinary creations and cookware, cutlery, bakeware and kitchen appliances.

In 2016, Chiarello was arrested for drunk driving and in that same year he was accused of sexual harassment by two former Coqueta employees. Lawsuits filed by the former employees were settled the following year.

He is survived by his wife, Eileen, and four children.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.