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.

Read More

James Rigato: Keeping It Real in Detroit

James Rigato: Keeping It Real in Detroit

By Dorothy Hernandez, Foodable Contributor

Millennial chef James Rigato dishes on his new restaurant Mabel Gray, the most important lessons learned while being a “Top Chef” contestant, and why he’s sick of a white-collar food industry.

Before he appeared on the 12th season of “Top Chef,” James Rigato had already built a reputation in Michigan as one of the area’s top chefs with his award-winning restaurant, The Root, in suburban Oakland County in Michigan. 

Even though the 31-year-old chef was unceremoniously booted for a “meh” seafood salad that critics panned, he brought a lot of attention to his beloved Great Lakes State, to which he pays homage to in his dishes, as well as made new chef friends with whom to collaborate, one of his favorite culinary endeavors.

Read More

How Chefs in Detroit Are Addressing Winter Sourcing Challenges

How Chefs in Detroit Are Addressing Winter Sourcing Challenges

By Dorothy Hernandez, Foodable Contributor

A strawberry grown out of state in December versus a strawberry grown locally in June. It’s no question which fruit is superior in terms of taste. So what do you do during the winter when you’re a Michigan chef who focuses on seasonal cooking and local sourcing?

“Everyone asks me that question,” says Chef James Rigato, known for his contemporary American cooking with a Michigan focus at The Root in White Lake, Mich., and now his ever evolving menus at the recently opened Mabel Gray in suburban Detroit. “What you’re really talking about [is] field growing, that’s what you lose [in the winter] — the wild foraging, you lose field growing, but there’s still a lot of food production going on.”

In recent years, more artisanal food producers have cropped up, and these products have excited chefs like Colin Brown, the executive chef at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, Mich. The hotel recently opened Park 600 Bar and Kitchen, which features locally sourced products and craft cocktails; it replaced the upscale hotel’s fine dining restaurant.

“I’ve seen a big change in the last 10, 12 years with new products coming on,” says Brown. “Artisan producers are really coming to the forefront with great products in Michigan.” 

Some of these products and producers include maple syrup, local bakers, and cheese makers.

Read More