Keeping it Real With Chef Fabio Viviani
The candid chef talks about the value of a good night’s sleep, life after Top Chef, and the possibility of opening up a restaurant in Boston.
Since earning the title of “Fan Favorite” on Top Chef Season 5, Chef Fabio Viviani has become something of a culinary star. Revered for his no-frills brand of traditional Italian food and his breezy, oftentimes outspoken attitude, the affable chef and reality star has since gone on to compete in Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars and Life After Top Chef, as well as the web series Chow Ciao! on Yahoo!. He’s now a New York Times bestselling cookbook author (Fabio’s Italian Kitchen) and his Chicago-based restaurant, Siena Tavern, is branching off into several new cities and concepts.
We caught up with Viviani to discuss his partnership with Columbus Foods and his presence at this year’s annual Mayfair in Harvard Square, but what we found out was that his budding culinary empire could end up right here in Boston.
So what brings you into Boston?
Why wouldn’t I come to Boston? That’s my question to you. C’mon man, you guys are rockstars there. It’s one of my favorite cities on the whole planet. I always grab the chance to go there when I can because it’s a beautiful city and the food scene is great. This particular time I’m coming on a tour with Columbus Foods. What’s happening is that we decided to create this event that showcased good food, simple recipes, and everything made in an old fashioned way. It’s kind of what I do in my restaurants. So, we decided to do this event in Boston at the food truck, I don’t know how to explain this, but we’re going to be handing out salami and we’re going to have people try all kinds of great things. We’re going to do some events and demonstrations. It’s going to be a couple of hours of good fun, hanging out with good people.
Are you going to be cooking exclusively with the Columbus products?
Absolutely. We’ve been developing recipes to showcase that cold cuts aren’t limited to appetizers and little sandwiches. We’re going to show the whole culture of what to do with cold cuts and how to handle them. I’m going to be there, so you know it’ll be fun, but it’s also going to be educational.
Have you done this in other cities?
Yes, we have a full schedule. I was recently in Texas, and I’m going to be in the New York area soon.
Did you say you have friends here in Boston?
I have friends with restaurants, which I’m not going to mention because I have more than one and if I forget one, I’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll say, “Oh, I love this restaurant or that restaurant,” and I’ll get three or four phone calls afterward saying, “really, you forgot my restaurant? Really, motherfucker?” Are you kidding me, man? Not going to happen. Sorry, dude.
You’re extremely busy right now opening new restaurants all over the country, aren’t you?
Yeah, I have five restaurants opening in the next seven months. Chicago, Miami, and New Jersey are coming up next.
How do you manage that? On Life After Top Chef, you seemed stressed out, and now you’re adding even more restaurants.
Listen, that’s a reality show. Trust me, what I do all day is not stressed out and driving my mom nuts and riding horses. That’s what television wants to show you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a little stressed. But hey, we have a thousand employees and 10 restaurants and several businesses, and I’m constantly running around. Stress is collateral, it’s okay. But the reality is that I’m not about to die, despite what my mom told everybody on the show.
But you are stretched over a large part of the country. How do you cover that much ground and give everyone face time?
I fly a lot. But I tend to eat well and sleep well. If you eat well and sleep well, it doesn’t really matter where you’re spending your awake time, you’re still going to be good. The problem that most people have with scheduling like mine is that they eat like crap because they can’t organize themselves. They sleep uncomfortably, too. That will drive you nuts.
So your biggest piece of advice is to get a lot of sleep?
You got to get a lot of sleep! Listen, I’m all about physical activity, but it’s absurd to me to think you’re going to live longer by going to the gym and exercising. It would be like saying your car is going to last longer if you drive 200 miles every day for three hours a day. Your car is not going to last longer, it’s going to die sooner. Your putting a lot of fatigue and stuff on your body. Right? If you want to live longer, take a nap.
I’ve read that you owned seven restaurants in your native Florence by the time you were 27?
Yes, correct. I did a lot of stuff in Italy. What I’m doing now in America is what I’ve always done in my life. The business was very good in Italy, but we decided to shelve the business because the economy was going down the drain. We weren’t comfortable anymore, and the liability was more than the upside, so we decided to sail into a different chapter. But the reality is that what we’ve been doing this all along.
You have restaurants now in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Do you have plans to expand into any other parts of the country?
We might end up doing something in Boston. We’re batting that around. We’ve also looked at New York, Las Vegas, and San Diego.
Would the place in Boston be a Siena Tavern?
It always depends on the location and the demographics around it. Siena Tavern has a very specific requirement of neighbors, people, and foot traffic. The restaurant business is really a science. So, if it’s not a Siena Tavern, it could be our steakhouse brand or a high-end sports bar.
Obviously Top Chef was a big part of your life and your current success. Do you keep up with any of the other contestants that have been on the show?
Do you want the politically correct answer, or do you want the reality?
I want the reality.
Nobody gives a fuck about anybody. They are all busy working. They’re all busy running around. I don’t care about what Stefan [Richter] is up to now. If I’m in Santa Monica I’ll text him, and if he’s within three blocks of me, of course we’ll grab coffee together. But I’m not going to add the five miles to my driving schedule just to see Stefan or to go hug and kiss Richard Blais. He’s got a wife, he’s fine. She can give him kisses.
MayFair in Harvard Square, May 4, from 12-6 p.m.