If you watch Top Chef, you know Fabio Viviani. This "cheftestant" from season five might not have walked away with the title, but his clever quips delivered in broken English, his charm, and his skills made him a fan favorite and brought him back for the current Top Chef All-Stars.
When not competing on Top Chef, Viviani owns two restaurants in California, Cafe Firenze in Moorpark and Firenzi Osteria in Touluca Lake. He also hosts a radio show, has written two cookbooks, has started the Firenze4Kids foundation and is a frequent blogger. Recently Fabio took time out from blogging about why he hates cilantro to talk to us. Below is the first of two parts.
Clean Plate Charlie: Being on Top Chef has made you somewhat of a celebrity. How do you feel about that?
Fabio Viviani: I'm not really a fan of celebrity chefs. Celebrity chefs have a lot of money and work little. I work 16 hours a day, and I have a new restaurant, and I have to pay bills.
On Top Chef , you're a real charmer. Do you attribute that to being Italian?
Charming? It's just me being Fabio. Being Italian gives me a slight advantage, but pulling chairs for ladies and serving them first, that's just me.
How long does a season of Top Chef take to film?
It takes about two months, three months. You're locked away. They don't let you go out; they don't let you go on the internet. You can't talk to anyone; you can't read a newspaper. The producers do that because they don't want anyone to know the outcome.
I've seen some of the contestants get pretty drunk in the Stew Room. Is that true or editing?
You're out of the world and all you see is the other contestants staring at you, so there's a time where you sit in a room for eight fucking hours with alcohol and you have a drink or two or maybe three. So by the end of the evening, 80 percent of the contestants are fully drunk.
How about you? Have you been drunk?
I don't get shitfaced on television.
There have been rumors that you're developing your own cable show. Are you planning a return to television -- just Fabio?
The deal is this one. I'm a chef. I'm not an actor; I'm not a TV celebrity. In five years down the road, if I have five restaurants and no TV show, I'm happy as a clam. In five years if I have a TV show and I lose my restaurants, I'm not happy. It's not about going on TV without any cost. Some kids will sell their mother to the devil to go on TV. If I do a TV show, I will set the bar for what a good TV show on cooking will be.
You've started a website to promote healthy eating for children. What gave you the idea for that?
Kidshealthcafe.com is a website for parents to find outsourcing information to promote healthy diets for kids. We're building the website, and then when the website is built, we'll file the 501c3, nonprofit status.
Do you have children?
I don't have kids. I have a turtle.
OK, then why the kids website?
The deal is this one. Without kids tomorrow, there is no business. American kids have health issues that belong to 80-year-olds in my country. There's something essentially fucked up about how screwed up nutrition is in America. Diabetes, heart disease, ADD, ADHD -- these are all nutritional issues. You know what food choices I had as a kid? Take it or leave it. The only thing on the table was the only thing available. I grew up eating red meat, pasta, whole milk. There's nothing wrong with eating red meat, and there's everything wrong with eating blue meat. It's not what you eat -- it's the quality of what you eat. In America, you can't drink a glass of wine until you're 21, but you can drink a can of soda that has 20 spoonfuls of sugar. I had my first glass of wine when I was 5. I had my second glass of wine at 5 and 20 minutes thanks to my grandfather.
You know the shitty part? Kids are protected in a polluted glass jar. I'm trying to teach kids to eat right at kidshealthcafe.com. Life is not a race to the grave in a well-preserved body, but don't you want to be 90 with a glass of wine in your hand? I don't want to die with a tube down my throat.
I will go to hell. But I know that my hell is not going to be burning my ass; my hell will be locked up in a supermarket with shitty processed foods and only a microwave. I'm going to be sitting in an American supermarket for eternity as my hell. That's why I'm trying to behave now. I was a very bad kid.
What did you do that was so bad as a kid, Fabio?
I set my grandmother on fire when I was 5. I grew up with A-Team and McGuyver, so I thought building bombs and setting fire to shit was great. I got a bottle of rubbing alcohol and gunpowder from my grandfather's gun and I drew a line of fire around my couch. I'm on the couch surrounded by a ring of fire. My grandma sees me on the couch with a ring of fire, she wheels her wheelchair to the couch, and her blanket and slippers caught on fire.
We put Grandma out, the couch was safe, but there was a permanent circle mark on the floor, and I was the man. But my dad didn't agree with it and beat me with a stick for an hour and a half. My family had a meeting, and the agenda was how are we going to get rid of Fabio? My grandma loved me, so she decided to invest her time in teaching me to cook if I liked playing with fire so at least I would be useful.
Keep an eye out for part two of our interview with Fabio Viviano (and to see if he sets another family member on fire).
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