You may remember Fabio Viviani from the fifth season of Bravo’s Top Chef. We sat down with the charming Italian chef and got the scoop on his new restaurant, his partnership with Quaker for women’s heart health and his love for Texas barbecue.
It’s no surprise Chef Fabio Viviani is an amazing cook. He’s been on Top Chef, runs his own restaurants and shares recipes through his cookbooks and weekly email newsletter. And if that’s not enough, he has the sexiest Italian accent! We chatted with Viviani about what he’s been up to lately and got some inside info on his favorite (and least favorite) foods and restaurants.
SheKnows: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but can you tell us what adventures (or misadventures) you’ve been up to since Top Chef?
Fabio Viviani: Oh… I was busy! So here’s the deal. The restaurant business has been growing, I went into publishing, we did create an award-winning internet show, we got more TV projects and we are expanding the brand and associating ourselves with companies and other partners in order to enhance our customer experience and have additional products, you know? It’s a big company right now.
I was in [the] business of restaurants… I had two restaurants before [the] Top Chef venture, and we were also working on other projects before that. So, Top Chef just exposed what I normally do, and [made] it a little bit more… create[d] a little bit more awareness of it. But I’m not doing anything different, really.
SK: Tell us about Siena Tavern. What’s the concept?
FV: Yes, we’re opening [a] few restaurants, actually. The first one we’re going to open… is called Siena Tavern, and imagine… where are you from? Are you from Chicago?
Favorite fellow celebrity chef: “Jaime Oliver.”
Favorite casual restaurant in Chicago: “You’re starting to be a little mean here. You can’t pick that for one simple reason. Picking your favorite restaurant is like picking your favorite child. You know you have one, but if you say it, you’re going to make everybody upset. OK, I gotta go with Yvette. And Gilt Bar, I gotta give you two.”
Favorite fast food restaurant: “Not [big into] fast food, but when I want it, I go to In-N-Out.”
Favorite food truck: “Anything Asian without cilantro. I hate cilantro.”
Favorite cookbook: “My mom’s recipe book.”
Foodie guilty pleasure: “Nutella.”
Food he hates: “Cilantro with all my heart. I know that hate is a big concept, but I really hate it. It goes beyond hate.”
Favorite non-food-related show: “The Walking Dead.”
Hobbies other than cooking: “Resting! And it became a hobby because I don’t get to do it every day. I’m great in couch-sitting; I am great in bed-rolling… and pillow fights sometimes, but I’ve got to be in a good mood because that’s too much of an activity.”
SK: SheKnows is based in Arizona. I’m from Texas.
FV: Texas! God, I love Texas… I love barbecue. It’s the best barbecue I ever had in Texas. You guys are amazing, I mean.
SK: Oh, yeah. Texans know how to do it. People in Tennessee will tell you they’re the ones who know.
FV: They have a good one, but I’ll take Texas over Tennessee. Don’t say this to anyone. Tennessee has better whiskeys, though. We gotta say that.
SK: That’s fair.
FV: But, yes, the concept of the new restaurant. It’s rustic Italian meets modern Chicago. That’s the concept. Traditional dishes served in a hustling and bustling environment. Wood beam meets stainless steel. Low-light meets flame out of the oven… It’s gorgeous. I mean, if you weren’t in Texas, you would totally be there tomorrow night.
SK: Sounds good!
FV: Sounds good to me, too, some barbecue, but… you’re not getting Siena tomorrow night, and I’m not getting barbecue. That’s not a good deal!
SK: Now we know you like barbecue! But what are your favorite items on your menu so far?
FV: Everything is made from scratch. I think we [outdid] ourselves with pizza. We do a lot of version[s] of it. Very healthy because we are using ancient grains to do so. The mill where we buy the flour is in Italy, still there, so it’s like a very, very… it’s a labor of love, so it comes out super light, we use the freshest ingredients, everything is made from scratch. So it is one of my favorite dishes. That and my mom’s lasagna.
SK: Of course! You can’t say anything bad about mom’s cooking.
FV: Well, you can, but you might have a problem.
SK: True. Speaking of moms and women in general, you’ve partnered with Quaker Oats to support the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women. Can we expect to see any heart-healthy inspiration in your menu?
FV: Well, as an Italian restaurant, we are not going to be open for breakfast every morning, but we will have, starting soon, probably right after summer, we’re going to have a great brunch. And since we’re a firm believer that starting with the right food in the morning is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your health, there is going to be, definitely, oatmeal options.
At the end of the day, regardless of who I’m associated with and what the cause is [we’re] behind, oatmeal is one of the American staples and everybody loves it. Now, Quaker happens to have [the] best version out there and is the one that people recognize the most.
And also, [we] did team up for the Go Red for Women movement, which is a great cause because we gotta take care of you guys. You know, what [kind of] world would it be without women? So with that said, yes, we’re going to have great, healthy morning-inspired choices on our brunch menu, but we are not a breakfast place, so we’re going to integrate healthy Italian food with the American flair that you guys are seeking for breakfast, but again, it’s not going to be a breakfast restaurant.
But again — regardless of me, regardless of Quaker — this is a great initiative. This is something people should be aware of. Because at the end of the day, we all like good food, we all like tasty stuff, but tasty and healthy doesn’t necessarily go together all of the time. So the thing [is], we need to reinvent a little bit of the breakfast to offer you one option that within 10 minutes a day can make your health [better]. So, that’s important.
You know, at the end of the day I’m a chef, so I’m all about tasty, but I’m Italian, as well, so the philosophy of you being true to your body is very well [ingrained] in me. And if I can share that with you and with everybody out there that’s willing to help with this movement, that’s a good thing…
SK: Since your restaurant’s in Chicago, let’s switch gears a bit and talk about how our readers can get your cooking without a plane ticket. I hear your cookbook, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, is doing pretty well. It’s named one of the top 10 cookbooks for spring by Publisher’s Weekly. Why do you think it’s doing so well?
FV: I didn’t know that. I got picked for one of the best cookbook[s] from Publisher’s Weekly? I didn’t know that. That’s a good deal!
SK: Is there anything else that you think our readers would like to know?
FV: Every week I come out with my own magazine, it’s an e-magazine, and you guys can subscribe if you want to. It’s completely free on fabioviviani.com and every week there [are] great tips on food, recipes, videos, wine suggestions, pairings, drinks, all kinds of stuff. It’s free for everybody, it will never cost you a cent.
Watch: Wake up with Chef Viviani
Think Chef Viviani sounds charming here? Check out this promo for Quaker Oats. *Swoon!*