“When you're on TV, you never get to see the light smiling in people's eyes when they eat.” That's how television host/cookbook author/vintner/retailer Michael Chiarello explained his decision to get back into the restaurant game after a decade of chasing (and living) other dreams. In 2008 he opened Bottega, a 90-seat California-Italian place, in Yountville, near his flagship NapaStyle cooking and home furnishings store. Chiarello, whose seminal Tra Vigne helped put Napa Valley on the foodie map during the 1980s and 1990s, must have deep stores of energy and creativity to keep his brand going. We caught the 48-year-old during a rare idle moment.
What will we always find in your refrigerator?
My wife declared a new collecting fetish a year or so ago: vintage Champagne. Old Champagne is delicious. So that's my go-to. If I say I'm going to be home at 9 or 10 and I'm late, I always bring home a bottle.
On your TV show, Easy Entertaining, you make it look so…easy. Do you practice what you preach?
We usually eat simply at home, but sometimes it's more complicated. Yesterday, for the family, I made braised octopus for pasta, olive oil-poached salmon and some asparagus from the garden braised in that same olive oil.
You have the perfect setting for a garden. What do you grow?
It's pretty extensive. We have a lot of perennials, and we try to have a story behind them. The gates were made using hoops from my grandfather's wine barrels. That way any time I open the gates I have a memory. There is a rose garden for my mother, who has been dead for 12 years, along with two bay leaf trees that grew from some of her cuttings. We have three different berry bushes that my mom planted for my girls when they were young. My little boy is four, so I planted a giant garden for him-giant pumpkins, sunflowers, zucchini. Kids love that stuff.
Sounds like your garden has a lot of sentimental meaning. Is that evident inside your home as well?
We have a lot of Anasazi pots. They're a couple thousand years old, and pretty extraordinary. For art, we tend to buy from artists that we really enjoy. We'll buy four or five pieces from the same artist and place the pieces like a show. Sometimes we ask them to do a piece that reflects the state of affairs in our family. We'll rest them for awhile, then put them back up. My wife is an art photographer, so we have some of her pieces as well.
What kind of schedule do you follow?
We have a small organic farm, so in the spring time I'm usually busy. I usually start in the vineyard. I cycle four days a week, so on those days I have to get up early, 5-5:30. Then I have breakfast with my son and wife. I like to drive him to school as often as I can. I'll go to the restaurant to work on seasonal menus and other normal restaurant business, and check in at the NapaStyle store next door. I'm at the restaurant during lunch service, then at meetings in between and spending time getting ready for dinner. Weekdays I'm there until about 9 PM.
How do you squeeze in those television tapings?
Last spring we taped for nine days in a row. It was very stressful because the restaurant wasn't that old yet. I'm working on three different shows right now-we'll see which one gets picked up.