Chef Fabio Viviani
Chef Fabio Viviani
Blazes Into The Culinary Scene
By Melissa Bryant
Setting your grandmother on fire is not a typical way for chefs to begin “cooking.” However, for Italian-born restaurateur, Food Network breakout star and cookbook author Fabio Viviani, a fiery encounter with his wheelchair-bound grandmother provided the necessary spark for a promising culinary career — but I’ll let him explain.
“When I was 5 and growing up in Florence, Italy, some friends of mine had a television. We would watch American imports dubbed in Italian. My favorite show was ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’,” said Viviani. “For me, that was the life — jumping into a car through the window, blowing things up and shooting things.” One day, the rambunctious youngster decided to mix gunpowder, olive oil and rubbing alcohol (normally used for his diabetic grandmother’s insulin shots) to make a homemade explosive. He smeared the concoction on his family’s modest two-bedroom apartment floor and lit it on fire — “just for the fun of it.”
“So there I was, standing on my couch with this barricade of flames around me, yelling “Victory!” said Viviani. “My great-grandma wheeled herself in, only to get the flaming paste stuck on her wheels. She looked like a moving fire — screaming, lit up, rolling, screaming some more.”
The fire got extinguished, but Viviani’s family was pushed to their breaking point. So they put him to work in their kitchen. Standing on top of his grandmother’s wheelchair for height, Viviani graduated from mixing fresh pasta dough to butchering poultry for chicken cacciatore. A few years later, his mother had to quit her job after developing a debilitating hand condition. The 11-year-old took a night shift job at a local bakery unloading 50 pound bags of flour and baking pies — until the fateful morning he met Simone Mugnaini, esteemed owner of Florentine trattoria, Il Pallaio.
Less is More
“This was the beginning of my real culinary education. Il Pallaio was the most important place to me,” said Viviani. “It was small. It’s kitchen was old and beat up and the bathroom smelled like mildew, but that place created some of the most amazing food I ever had in my life.” It was in this weathered kitchen where the budding culinarian was taught “less is more.”
Viviani trained at Il Pallaio for years while attending culinary school, eventually becoming the restaurant’s sous chef at 16 years old. In September of 2005, he moved to California in search of new challenges.
Critics quickly began to take notice of the handsome chef’s delightfully simple manner of preparing classic Italian comfort food after his appearance on Bravo’s hit reality television series “Top Chef.”
Now, he is the owner and executive chef of four Italian restaurants — Café Firenze in California, Siena Tavern and Mercato by Fabio Viviani in Chicago and, most recently, Siena Tavern Miami. Chicago-based hospitality group DineAmic Group co-owns Siena Tavern Chicago and Siena Tavern Miami. “I’ve failed many times, but I’ve also learned that in life, it doesn’t matter how many times people try to push you down,” said Viviani. “You’ve just got to be willing to get up again.”
Siena Tavern Miami is located at 404 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, Florida 33139.
Chef Fabio Viviani’s newest cookbook Fabio’s American Home Kitchen: More Than 125 Recipes With an Italian Accent features classic American recipes made with an Italian twist. To pre-order a copy, visit www.fabioviviani.com.
Chef Viviani will be signing copies of American Home Kitchen at the Miami Book Fair, November 22nd & 23rd. Buon appetito!