Since beginning his official culinary career at the young age of 12, “Top Chef” Fan Favorite Fabio Viviani has brought Italian comfort-food to thousands of hungry mouths. His philosophy is that “it’s easy to work in the kitchen all day, but it’s much harder to make a business out of your passion.” And that is exactly what Fabio has done. Viviani gave up six restaurants, two dance clubs, and a farmhouse bed and breakfast in and around Florence to move to America in December 2005, pursuing his dream of making a business. Now the executive chef and co-owner of Café Firenze Italian Restaurant and Martini Bar in Moorpark, California and Firenze Osteria Italian Restaurant and Martini Bar in Toluca Lake, California, Fabio shares with us some facts about himself and tips for holiday entertaining.
Q: Which culinary experts or celebrity chefs do you admire most?
A: I respect all chefs, but I am more interested in people who can open 10, 20, 30 restaurants, still cook and make a HUGE business out of their passion. The Emeril’s, the Tom Colicchio’s, the Mario Batali’s. It’s easy to be a chef and be in the kitchen all day. What is not easy is to build something beyond that.
Q: Do you have any basic tips for the beginning chef?
A: Try everything and then do it twice; don’t give up. You should approach learning to cook as you would approach training for a marathon. Anybody can sprint, but cooking is a marathon. If you open the page to the middle of a cookbook, you are probably going to fail and give up. If you start with an impossible recipe from a cookbook, it’s easy to quit when it’s too difficult. Maybe start out with trying a few simple recipes from a cookbook, and build yourself up. Try scrambling an egg. It took me 25 years to learn what people can learn in 2 years.
Q: What inspired you to work on opening Firenze4Kids Foundation and to launch Kids Health?
A: I am very sensitive about health issue with children. I grew up very healthy, but that was from having limited choices. I grew up on food stamps and we had very little meat, very little flour, lot of veggies, but making my own food, I learned you can do more with less which has kept me very healthy. In America you have teenagers with diabetes and heart disease, and I understand it is partly because of all the choices, so I will do whatever I can to share my knowledge about my passion to teach people to make better food choices.
Q: What was the most valuable lesson you learned as a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef?”
A: Don’t try anything new on national television.
Q: Do you have any staple dishes that you make as part of your holiday meals?
A: Big roast meat. I love meat, love to cook meat dishes for the holidays.
Q: Do you have time-saving tips for cooking in a hurry?
A: If I’m in a hurry, I always go for fresh pasta because that’s quick to prepare.
Q: Is it possible to cook a great meal while sticking to a budget?
A: Absolutely! Instead of buying pasta, for example, you can make your own! You’ve got to know your ingredients so that you can shop on a budget. You can substitute some cheaper ingredients for more expensive ones.
Q: What are some of your favorite ingredients to keep on hand for cooking for the holidays?
A: Beef, pork, eggs, pasta , sweet potatoes, yam, squash. I love vegetables, but I’m not big on cooking vegetables for holiday meals. I like to make a lot of meat dishes. I am a really, really good eater, so during the holidays I just eat what makes me happy.
Q: Do you have any ideas for those who want to start preparing their holiday meals earlier to avoid scrambling too much on the day of the party?
A: You can make some soup or stew beforehand, and freeze it for later. People tend to overdo holiday meals, so try to relax and just enjoy!