Part of The Press Democrat’s expanded coverage in Napa County will include interviews with some of the biggest names and influencers in restaurants and dining venues.

Look for our regular series highlighting a different chef or restaurateur standing out in the world of food and drink in Napa’s thriving food industry.

This week we caught up with Mac de Chavez, the chef at Chispa Bar, 1500 First St., Suite 140. The team behind Cadet Wine and Beer Bar opened Chispa in August. The bar is a tequila-focused cocktail bar with a carefully selected menu of unique bar bites and seafood towers.

We asked de Chavez nine questions. Here’s a sample of our conversation:

Democratic press: What inspired you to get into the world of cooking?

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

PD: How would you describe your cooking style?

From Chavez: I always preferred Italian and Japanese techniques when I started cooking. I’ve worked with very technical chefs who showed me how difficult it is to serve fresh, simple foods. I’m inspired by foods influenced by ethnic diversity.

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

From Chavez: Chispa has a very positive and bright energy, and is very polished. It’s not fine dining, but more like family style. It’s a new addition to the downtown Napa scene and perfect for those looking for great cocktails and seafood dishes. Our menu pairs well with tequila. We prepare the steak that is tequila marinated for three days and has lots of flavors and spices, served with chimichurri sauce. It’s definitely something different.

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

From Chavez: As for food, it’s our Kung Pao octopus. It’s very different from the stuff you can get at other places that always use chicken. This one uses octopus and has a great flavor – it contains peanuts, pepper and chili pepper. On the drinks menu, “Ricky Bobby” is very popular. Our bar manager creates many of the creative cocktails on the menu.

PD: What is your favorite restaurant to visit in your spare time?

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

PD: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not cooking?

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

PD: What makes Napa’s dining scene unique?

From Chavez: One of the previous chefs I worked with convinced me to move here because it’s a food mecca. You have access to many great components. The product we get here is not like other places in California. They stand out.

PD: Do you have your own farm or a favorite vendor to work with?

From Chavez: I love Tenbrink, they have so many types of produce, ten types of stone fruits, and five different types of peppers. All the fruits are really good ones and the tomatoes. I love tomatoes.

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

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

Dalia Ghabbour is an award-winning food writer with reporting experience in Florida and Kentucky. Contact them at and on Twitter at @dghabour.

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