The Food Network's Michael Chiarello has spent the past decade tending to his 20-acre vineyard and celebrity chef empire, and is about to re-enter the restaurant business after a seven-year hiatus.
Chiarello appeared on the latest episode of the Planet Green show Supper Club with Tom Bergeron to discuss the challenges of sourcing his food locally for his new restaurant when one has a discriminating palate But everybody just stay calm! He's not going to disregard his carbon footprint when Bottega opens later this month in Yountville, CA.—his wife keeps him in check.
As the show's guests chowed down on olive oil cake made with oil from Chiarello's vineyard, Tom Bergeron (who you might recognize from the balls-to-the-balls video-clip show institution, AFV) asked Michael about whether he wanted to risk his career for a smaller carbon footprint.
"I haven't had a restaurant for seven years, but I really missed having one," Chiarello responded. "In the meantime—I didn't get greenwashed, I've always been organic—all my stores have reclaimed materials, reclaimed barnwood, and for Napa Style we like to repurpose goods." (The store also sells vintage furniture, silverware, and more.)
"But now building this restaurant, now my ego's involved, not just my business. You take 25 years, 180,000 hours worth of cooking. If you taste a chicken and I know that I can get a breast of chicken from France with the carbon footprint the size of this house but it'll be the best chicken you ever had in your life… are you willing to risk your entire reputation to be green?" (At least "this house" in question is eco-friendly.)
He continued on, apparently having given the topic a lot of thought. "Is a local San Francisco sole as good as Dover sole? No, it doesn't taste as good. Will I use it? Probably not. What kind of sacrifices will I make? Will I get Dover sole? No, I won't do that either."
"But boy, I've been wrestling with it, my wife just beats it into you: 'No no no! You can't,' But that's the honest question [I have]."
"So is this a wrestling match that contintues?" Bergeron probed suggestively.
"You've already put out the press release…I'm committed now," laughed Chef Chiarello.
Chiarello's is not the most environmentally correct answer, but I say hats off to the guy for being honest about his dilemma.
Story by Colleen Kane. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008.