Our Interview with Fabio Viviani of Top Chef
This is one busy man. Between his restaurants, his new e-cookbook and a multitude of appearances, demos and Twitter updates, he makes it all work. Born in Florence and known for using fresh ingredients (and making fresh pasta from scratch, of course!), Viviani talks to us about using high-quality ingredients, eating good food and how he plans to change the experience of eating breakfast.
Check out Fabio's new e-cookbook here.
First of all, I saw your appearance on Jimmy Fallon last night (August 11, 2011). I know you’ve been on the show before, and you are determined to show your burger-cooking abilities versus Jimmy in a ‘burger-off’. What did you think of his putting fries on the burger?
Come on guys, really? French fries on a burger? What is that?
For the record, I think your burger with the egg looked much better. Well, you know us Americans- we love our fatty foods, hence the fries on the burger.
What’s wrong with this country? (Laughs). I mean, this was a piece of history, I had been on before and lost and was invited back and the one guy from Jimmy’s team voted for me just because he felt bad. Let me make some fresh pasta at my home in Italy and the judges can be my grandma, mom and uncle! (Laughs). But seriously, I had a great time- Jimmy is a phenomenal guy.
Tell me a bit about your new breakfast e-cookbook, the 2nd edition of Breakfast is Back! The 1st edition was a bestseller for 5 weeks on the Amazon list.
Let me tell you this- I wasn’t big on breakfast. In Italy I would have maybe a cappuccino in the morning, or a croissant. There was no big production of sitting down or big deal made about breakfast. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, so our idea of eggs was chickens out in the chicken coop. Eggs are big for breakfast in America, so, 1 + 1 = 2 + 3, you know? (Laughs). I had to think ‘What is good for breakfast’? On Top Chef I did the burger challenge and lost and learned from it and now I have burgers and eggs in both of my restaurants.
On educating people and utilizing the best fresh ingredients:
I want to teach people the easy way to do things, which is why I create my videos. There is a combination of good and bad TV shows about food. They can’t elevate food in the U.S.- they spend time freaking people out, telling them about all of the bad things out there. I want to be like everybody’s grandma! You want A. nutrition and B. simple food. You can get a 3000 meal with nutrition and vitamins and good ingredients, but you can also have a 3000 calorie meal full of crap. (He apologizes for saying ‘crap’). You know exactly where those calories go – your butt! People demonize high-end food, but there is good stuff in there. I will make fried chicken, but I won’t eat fast food fried chicken.
If you have a taste for eggs, Eggland’s best eggs have more nutrients and less fat. You are what you eat. People say it’s bad to have 3 or 4 or 5 eggs a day, but if the food you are eating is good for you, it's not a bad thing. People want options. People want burgers that are better for them, so I made them. When I make pasta, I make it fresh and use the best olive oil and great flour and I put it in front of you and you have a luscious dish with good calories that tastes good! I won’t serve a salad just to serve a salad that’s not great. I’d rather eat something hearty with the best nutrients. In the food industry, you have to stand behind good food and principles and know that you can eat healthy foods without giving up the flavor. People are afraid of calories, but I use good beef with a good fat-protein ratio, so it’s the best and it tastes that way. I use good produce and I am proud of it. I don’t want to feed people crap. Your grandma wouldn’t feed you crap, right?
What is your advice for young chefs? You started at age 11, so young yourself.
I say ‘go for it’. When you make a decision, you stick with it. You don’t change your mind. If you want to be a line cook, and that’s your dream, then do it. Just stay on track and don’t change your mind and go from job to job. The reality is that when you stick with something and work your face off, it works. Don’t work for 50 years and change your career. It won’t happen unless you work at it. Follow your dreams. I am very blessed, and not because I was on a TV show. I’ve been blessed to meet and work with the right people and I work 18-20 hours a day, so I deserve it.
The economy is bad and yet you are thriving. People don’t have jobs and you’ve done so well for yourself.
The truth is, the economy is bad but the food business is thriving. Too many people in the U.S. think that they can open a restaurant since their mom made a good lasagna and they have a few thousand dollars in the bank. It is hard work and it is a long-term commitment. I started at age 11 and still have the passion. You need to have passion for this business. It is a social commitment to open a restaurant business and a commitment to the community.
Your restaurants have been a social hub where foodies, fans and friends come to gather. What keeps them coming back?
The people don't come to see me. When you go to a restaurant, you want an experience. My team and I work so hard to make that happen. I want to teach America about food. I am building a production studio in my house, I blog about food, I believe in quality over quantity. Who cares if you do a ton of things? It will never enhance people’s lives. The people come back because the food is phenomenal, the ingredients are fresh and we really care about these people. We know them by name and we call them on their birthday even if they don’t have a reservation at the restaurant. I am truly grateful for all of this. I'm spending my own money to build the production studio to teach people about taking care of themselves. I’m not in this for self-promotion or to make money. I want to teach people to do things in the right way.
His fan base (he updates Twitter constantly!):
I use Twitter to keep in touch. I am a one-man team on there. I try to answer questions and contact 30-40 people, but I get thousands of messages. I try my best to keep up. If they want Fabio, they get Fabio.
Get more Fabio by checking out his new e-cookbook here or visit his website here!
Be sure to check out Page 116 for the Salami, Pecorino & Pear Scrambled Eggs! Fabio recommends that you drizzle these with some quality aged balsamic.