An Interview With Chef Fabio Viviani
If you didn’t stop by the 31st annual MayFair event this past Sunday in Cambridge's Harvard Square, you missed out on the chance to indulge in delicious foods. Even more than that, you missed out on the opportunity to talk to Italian Chef Fabio Viviani, formerly of Bravo’s “Top Chef” show, as well as taste authentic Italian salumi fresh out of the MeatUp Food Truck. Viviani (pictured on the right) earned the “Fan Favorite” title after competing in Season 5 of “Top Chef” – which is probably the best way you could describe him, as he made it back onto “Top Chef All Stars” because everyone loved him so much. He also hosts the #1 lifestyle and food web series on Yahoo! called “Chow Ciao!,” owns and operates restaurants in greater Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, and wrote the New York Times bestselling cookbook, “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen.” I interviewed Fabio over the weekend and discuss his favorite recipe, his favorite cities to eat in in the United States, and more.
DiningIn: So what is the MeatUp Food Truck?
Fabio Viviani: The MeatUp Food Truck is an idea because, if you think about it, there are many companies that buy commercial advertisements to promote their product but – good bad or indifferent – the best way to get people to understand what something is and where things are coming from is to have them taste it. I can look at a piece of salumi, I can look at a picture of a pie or a picture of pasta, but that won’t do anything for me. You have to taste it and put it in your mouth to taste the quality and the craftsmanship of the product you’re eating. The idea of a “MeatUp” truck is just a clever play in words – it’s a meat truck, we’re selling meats! We have people experiencing old-school Italian craftsmanship.
DiningIn: When did you first become interested in cured meats?
Fabio Viviani: Oh, I grew up with it. We started out eating prosciutto and salumi in Italy and then we ended up making it, you know? I make my own salumi and my own cold cuts, but when we talk about commercial operations, you have to associate yourself with people that know what they’re doing and are doing things the old-fashioned way. There are a lot of bad products out there, and there are few companies that make good products. Columbus Meats is one of them.
Fabio Viviani, from the album "A Night On The Pass Line" taken from his official website
DiningIn: What’s your relationship with Boston food?
Fabio Viviani: I don’t have any food-related activities in Boston right now – I just came here now because I have a good friend here and I like to eat. Again, there is a plan for a Boston restaurant in the future, but we’re not quite there yet considering we have seven restaurants opening in the next eight-nine months, so.
DiningIn: So you already have five restaurants in Chicago now, but none in New York yet.
Fabio Viviani: No, not New York. In New York, the rent is too expensive. People fabricate money there. I can’t afford rent in New York, it’s crazy! I’m not selling gold here, I’m selling potatoes and pasta!
DiningIn: Things people want to eat.
Fabio Viviani: Exactly. Nothing on my menu is more than $30, so I can’t afford New York rent.
DiningIn: What was one of your favorite moments from being on “Top Chef?”
Fabio Viviani: You know, there are a lot of great moments from “Top Chef.” Every time I go there, I nail “Restaurant Wars” – that’s my bread and butter, that’s what I do for a living: open restaurants, run restaurants, and make people happy in the restaurant business.
DiningIn: So, DiningIn currently operates in five different cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Of those five cities, if you had to eat in one particular city for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Fabio Viviani: It would have to be Chicago. It’s certainly the food scene that I am most comfortable with. Now, with that said, Minneapolis is a great food city, Dallas – who doesn’t like Dallas food? Boston is fantastic as well, so up-and-coming, but I already have a place in Chicago. So, if I had to pick one, I would pick Chicago because I wouldn’t have to pay for dinner.
Question: And you’d want to eat the food from your restaurants anyway, right?
Fabio Viviani: Right!
Question: So, you’re from Florence, Italy.
Fabio Viviani: Born and raised in Italy – moved to the United States in 2006.
Question: I actually visited Florence when I was 16 years old, and…
Fabio Viviani: And you don’t remember it, I get it.
Question: Well… I remember a little bit of it, at least that the food was delicious. Do you think that Florence is the greatest city in the world for the art of cooking?
Fabio Viviani: No, I think Florence is the greatest city on the planet for both art and culture. BUT! For food, it’s top three, you know? I think Florence, I think New York and Chicago, I think Paris, and I think Barcelona… They’re all great food cities. However, Florence, if you think about it, 60% of the world’s art patrimony is in Italy, and 80% of them are in Florence… That’s a big deal.
Question: Aside from where you’re already opening them over the next year, where would you want to open a restaurant in the United States if you were to pick one city?
Fabio Viviani: I would pick Las Vegas and Boston, and I do love New York but people are just a little bit crazy with the rent down there. I think Philadelphia is also a great city, but Boston is definitely on the radar. It’s a great city with good people. I love Boston.
Question: Right now – today, it could change tomorrow – what is your current favorite recipe, and could you describe it for us?
Fabio Viviani: Fresh pasta. Four eggs, a couple of cups of flower, a touch of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor, you’re in business.
Here's a video of Fabio describing how to make fresh homemade pasta.