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Food Network host Michael Chiarello dies after allergic reaction

Chef and former Food Network host Michael Chiarello died Friday at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa after suffering from an acute allergic reaction that led to anaphylactic shock, a statement confirmed Saturday. He was 61.

Chiarello was known not only for developing restaurants in California and elsewhere but also for his time on television. His Food Network Emmy-winning series, “Easy Entertaining With Michael Chiarello,” launched in 2003, and he appeared on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters.” He also wrote several cookbooks.

He was born in Red Bluff, Calif., and raised in the Central Valley community of Turlock. His culinary passion started in his mother’s kitchen, where he learned cooking traditions that were part of his southern Italian heritage; his parents were both from Calabria.

“I always knew I would be a chef,” Chiarello told The Times in 1988. “That’s all I ever wanted to do. I also knew I needed to have more knowledge at every turn.”

Chiarello started apprenticing in restaurants at only 14 and then attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he graduated in 1982 and went on to study and work in restaurants in Florida.

He opened Toby’s Bar and Grill in south Miami at 22, the Mercury News reported.

“That was the launch in finding out where I wanted my food to go,” Chiarello told The Times in 1988. “Toby’s was very American and progressive for that market.”

In 1986, he moved to Napa Valley to open Tra Vigne, as one of its founding chefs. It was “one of Napa’s most legendary restaurants” and had a guest list that included Robert Redford, Robert Mondavi, Danny DeVito and Francis Ford Coppola, according to a 2015 Sonoma Magazine article. Even Julia Child stopped by.

He was named chef of the year in 1985 by Food and Wine Magazine while at Toby’s and in 1995 by his alma mater the Culinary Institute of America.

There was some controversy amid the success. In 2016, Chiarello was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Napa County. The arrest came days after he reached a settlement with two former servers at his San Francisco restaurant, Coqueta, who said they were sexually harassed and “forced to endure a hostile, sexually charged work environment” at the restaurant, according to the lawsuit. He denied the charges.

At the time of his arrest, his spokesman told The Times in a statement that Chiarello was embarrassed and apologized to people close to him, and that he intended to fight the DUI charges.

Chiarello developed more than 10 restaurants and served as chef in his Spanish restaurant Coqueta in San Francisco and Yountville, as well as Tra Vigne and Italian restaurants Bottega and Ottimo in Yountville, until the time of his death.

Chiarello’s family said in a statement that they mourned the loss of their beloved patriarch, whose “culinary brilliance, boundless creativity, and unwavering commitment to family were at the core of his being.”

“He brought people together through the joy of shared meals, fostering lasting memories around the table,” his family said. “As we navigate this profound loss, we hold dear the moments we cherished with him, both in his kitchens and in our hearts. 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.”

Funeral arrangements will remain private, and in lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Meals on Wheels.

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