9 Questions with Chef Mac De Chavez of Napa’s New Chispa Bar

Part of The Press Democrat’s expanded coverage in Napa County includes interviews with some of the biggest names and influencers in the food scene.

Look for our regular series that spotlights another chef or restaurant owner making a mark in the world of food and drink in Napa’s thriving fine dining industry.

This week we met Mac De Chavez, the chef of Chispa Bar. The team behind Cadet Wine and Beer Bar opened Chispa in August. The bar is a tequila-centric cocktail bar with a carefully curated menu of unique bar bites and seafood towers.

We asked De Chavez nine questions. Here is a sample of our conversation.

The Democratic Press: What inspired you to get into cooking?

From Chavez: Honestly, the kitchen was love at first sight. My sister encouraged me to go to culinary school and I was so inspired by the chefs around me. I became fascinated with stone fruits and other produce that I didn’t have back home (in the Philippines).

PD: How would you describe your culinary style?

From Chavez: I always had a preference for Italian and Japanese techniques when I started cooking. I worked with very technical chefs who showed me how difficult freshness and simplicity could be. I am inspired by foods influenced by multiple ethnicities.

PD: How would you describe Chispa to someone who has never visited it?

From Chavez: Chispa has a very bright positive energy. It’s very polite. It’s not fine dining, but closer to the community and family style. It’s a new addition to the downtown Napa scene and perfect for those looking for great cocktail and seafood platters. Our menu pairs very well with tequila. We prepare a tequila steak marinated for three days and rich in flavors and spices, served with chimichurri sauce. It’s definitely something different.

PD: What is your most popular dish on the menu?

From Chavez: For food it’s our Kung Pao Octopus. It’s very different from things you can find at other places that always use chicken. This one uses octopus and has great flavor – it has peanuts, peppers and chili peppers. And on the drinks menu, the Ricky Bobby is very popular. Our bar manager has many creative cocktails on the menu.

PD: What is your favorite restaurant to visit during your off hours?

From Chavez: I just visited Valley Bar and Bottle Shop in Sonoma and love their food. I love what they do, it’s very simple but the flavors are perfect.

PD: What do you like to do when you’re not cooking?

From Chavez: I like to work out and I play a lot of basketball. I do a lot of fishing. I like going to the coast, I like the beach and the ocean.

PD: What makes Napa’s food scene unique?

From Chavez: A former chef I worked with convinced me to move here because it’s a mecca for gastronomy. You have access to so many amazing ingredients. The product we get here is not the same as other places in California. This stands out.

PD: Do you have your own farm or a favorite supplier that you work with?

From Chavez: I like Tenbrink – they have many types of produce and 10 types of stone fruits, five different peppers. All their fruits are really good, as well as the tomatoes. I love tomatoes.

PD: What do you hope to see in the future in Napa’s culinary scene?

From Chavez: I hope to see more tourists and more faces come to Napa to support the businesses. And we really need more late-night options for a meal and snack. Chispa is one of them, but we need more.

Dahlia Ghabour is an award-winning food writer with reporting experience in Florida and Kentucky. Contact them at dghabour@gmail.com and on Twitter at @dghabour.

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