Schoolcraft is known for its renowned culinary arts program and has a nationwide reputation for creating high quality, unique dishes. Creating chefs who represent themselves in some of the most recognized restaurants around the world, Schoolcraft prides itself with culinary greatness.
With its hands on learning environment, and new addition of a Culinary and Dietary Operations Management Bachelor degree, students are set up for success after graduation. While the program continues to grow, graduates of the program are showing that no matter what culinary arts path is taken, a Schoolcraft education can help aid in all facets of culinary careers.
James Rigato, 2005 graduate of the Schoolcraft Culinary Arts program is living proof that with passion, hard work and determination, people can achieve their goals. Rigato, a Howell native worked his way up from a dishwasher as a young teen, to personal chef, to recently a successful restaurant owner.
Rigato, 31, opened his restaurant called Mabel Gray in Hazel Park in September of 2015. Now, roughly half a year later Mabel Gray recieved a nomination for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Best New Restaurant award and made it all the way to the semifinals.
“I was really honored to have this nomination because this organization is still free standing, this honor is tried and true and performance based,” said Rigato. “However, nominations like this should be a byproduct of your goal,” he continued. “It shouldn’t be your final goal. You should be chasing something greater and these will show up unexpectedly.”
The award, known as the “Oscars of the culinary world” according to Rigato, represents restaurants around the country. These semifinalists, along with those nominated in other culinary categories were chosen from a pool of nearly 20,000 applicants by the Restaurant and Chef Award Committee.
Mabel Gray hosts a menu that features local ingredients and also changes daily. By utilizing only what he can get from local farmers that day, Rigato alters his menu to accommodate these fresh ingredients. This uniqueness is what makes his restaurant special. It separates Mabel Gray from any other restaurant in the Metro Detroit area and although it is new, it is making great strides in the culinary industry. With a focus on freshness, Mabel Gray provides the best of the best from farm raised beef to locally grown vegetables.
“James is so inspiring to work with,” said Marie Fallon, manager of Mabel Gray. “He is a great leader and beyond his years in creativity.”
Rigato’s Schoolcraft education has laid the foundation for where he is today and it is continuing to influence his future.
“The Schoolcraft culinary program really gave me the foundation and skills I call upon in my restaurant. It’s a renewable resource, I graduated 11 years ago and still keep in touch and utilize the classes I took there.”
Culinary Arts have been a part of Rigato’s life since he was a child and he aims to keep it a main part of his life far into the future. With goals of becoming a Culinary Arts professor at Schoolcraft and continuing to build his restaurant business, Rigato sees nothing but hard work and success to come. Thanks to his strong past as a Schoolcraft graduate, Rigato has followed his passion proving inspirational for every student today.
The nomination was an honor for Rigato, but it does not mean the end of his hard work.
“I don’t really like having obtainable goal, I like having momentum and the worst thing you can do is have an easy goal,” said Rigato.
Aside from growing the success of his restaurant, Rigato will be teaching two continuing education classes at Schoolcraft in the spring and summer. “Make a Restaurant Quality Meal: Hands On.” Is set to take place on May 23 from 6 to 10 p.m. The cost is $119 per person and will provide tips and techniques used in restaurants from seasoning to staying on time. “Join the Fun Cooking with Mystery Produce” will take place on July 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. The course is $99 per person and focuses on how to prepare and serve food from a box of unknown fruits and vegetables. People can find more information on these classes online at schoolcraft.edu/continuing-ed.
“I am excited for James’ upcoming classes,” said Schoolcraft Culinary Arts Department Chair Shawn Loving. “He is a pleasure to be around and I know he will have more success in the future.”
For reservations or further information on Mabel Gray call 248-398-4300 or visit the restaurant at 23825 John R Road, Hazel Park, MI 48030.