Rising Star Chef James Rigato of Mabel Gray - Biography

Hazel Park, MI

November 2016

A native of rural Howell, Michigan, James Rigato’s cooking philosophy started to form with his grandparents, who exposed him to hand-crafted Italian cuisine. At 14, he entered the restaurant business as dishwasher, and he enrolled in Schoolcraft College’s culinary program three years later. After graduating, Rigato spent eight years working in some of metro Detroit’s finer restaurants, including Morel’s, Shiraz, Rugbye Grille, and Bacco Ristorante.
In 2007, Rigato became the personal chef for Ed Mamou’s business, Royal Oak Recycling and Royal Oak Storage, where his passion in the kitchen sparked their friendship and future partnership. Rigato and Mamou opened The Root Restaurant & Bar in 2011, and Rigato’s Michigan-focused cuisine received regional and national attention. He competed on season 12 of Bravo’s “Top Chef in 2013, and in 2015, he won Food & Wine’s “The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes.” Last year, Rigato and Mamou brought their efforts closer to metro Detroit, opening Mabel Gray in Hazel Park—with the restaurant earning a nod from James Beard as a semi-finalist for “Best New Restaurant,” a spot on Eater’s “The 21 Best New Restaurants in America,” and a 2016 StarChefs Rust Belt Rising Star Award. 

Diners at Rigato’s restaurants experience everything he loves about growing up and living in Michigan, and he’s committed to making Michigan better for everyone. Among other outreach, he works with local elementary students to grow their own produce. His “Young Guns” in-house dinner series showcases the work of Detroit’s promising young chefs, and he vigorously participates in local benefits.