Quick Six With… James Rigato, Detroit Chef & Restaurateur

Quick Six With… James Rigato, Detroit Chef & Restaurateur

By Jessica Bryant, Managing Editor

At 31 years old, James Rigato’s plate is heaping with opportunity. Last year, he opened Mabel Gray, located in Detroit suburb Hazel Park, which is now up for a James Beard Award for “Best New Restaurant.” To be qualified for this award, a restaurant must have opened in the calendar year before the award is given, it must already display excellence in food, beverage, and service, and is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.

With 43 seats, Mabel Gray serves locally sourced American cuisine from a handwritten menu that is changed out daily. The menu generally includes 8 to 12 items and shifts 25 to 50 percent each day. “Most dishes don’t last longer than a week,” said Rigato. He cooks on the line every night.

But this isn’t Rigato’s first restaurant. At the age of 26, he opened The Root in White Lake, Mich., which also showcases local ingredients. It was named “Restaurant of the Year” in 2012 by the Detroit Free Press. More recently, Rigato, who holds many accolades, was named “The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes” in 2015 by Food & Wine.

If you think he looks familiar, you may have seen Rigato in the 12th season of “Top Chef,” an opportunity he said taught him a lot about how to look at his dishes and the season, and how to edit.

“It definitely made me a better chef and I’m really appreciative of that opportunity,” he said. “The big win was really to network, so now I have friends I didn’t before and that’s better than winning.”

A graduate of Schoolcraft College’s culinary arts program, Rigato started his career at restaurants such as Morel’s, Shiraz, Rugby Grille at The Townsend Hotel, and Bacco Ristorante.

Below, we ask the chef six quick questions about the restaurant that changed his life, the most important lesson he’s learned as an operator, and which culinary trend needs to fade out.

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