“Every decision you make about food, everything you purchase – whether at a restaurant or a grocery store – is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. So let’s use the resources that we have, and put Michigan’s food scene on a national stage.” – Chef James Rigato
In Rigato’s restaurants, diners experience everything he loves about growing up and living in Michigan: community and the bounty of the earth. At The Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake and Mabel Gray in Hazel Park, the Top Chef Season 12 contestant creates dishes with ingredients sourced from his favorite local farmers and artisans. Rigato welcomes his guests as if they are family, aiming to nurture and delight them.
Rigato opened The Root Restaurant & Bar in 2011, committed to promoting the resources of the state. The contemporary American cuisine with a Michigan focus received regional and national attention, including winning Food & Wine The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes Region 2015, The Detroit Free Press 2012 Restaurant of the Year and 2013 Best Chef by Hour Detroit. In 2015, Rigato brought his efforts closer to metro Detroit, opening Mabel Gray in Hazel Park. Based on the same principles of The Root, Rigato considers the 43-seat renovated diner the ideal setting for improvisation, offering a daily menu in the European style but with Michigan flavor and substance.
A native of the small, rural town Howell and a Schoolcraft College graduate, Rigato’s cooking philosophy started with his grandparents who exposed him to the art of hand-crafted Italian cuisine. Rigato entered the restaurant business at age 14 as a dishwasher at a local diner. After enrolling in Schoolcraft College’s culinary program at 17, he spent the next eight years working in some of metro Detroit’s finer restaurants. In 2007, Chef Rigato became the personal chef for Ed Mamou’s business, Royal Oak Recycling and Royal Oak Storage, where his passion and enthusiasm in the kitchen sparked their friendship and future partnership. The two collaborated in developing and opening The Root, followed by Mabel Gray.
Rigato’s strong family and community orientation drives his work outside his own kitchens. He partners with local school districts creating a program for elementary students to grow their own produce for lunches and with a local pediatrician in creating cooking videos for families adopting healthier eating habits. His “Young Guns” in-house dinner series showcases the work of promising young local chefs, and he vigorously participates in area benefit chef events. He actively supports the home-grown music community regularly welcoming them to participate in live music events at his restaurants regularly.
When not in his kitchens, Rigato is outdoors with his other half, kayaking, bicycling, and traveling. He loves music, poetry, and his Doberman pinscher Oda Mae.
Follow Chef James Rigato on Twitter and on Instagram @chefJamesRigato.