Italian-born Chef Fabio Viviani creates restaurant concepts and great food across the USA, among them Chicago’s popular Siena Tavern. The former Top Chef contestant didn’t win the cooking competition in Season 5, but won the title of Fan Favorite. Here he charms readers and shares a glimpse of his daily routines.
What’s your morning routine?
Every morning is different for me, but I have to say one thing that stays the same is my morning routine with my family. Once I finish a cup of coffee (preferably Lavazza) I feed my three-year-old Gage, make sure the dogs are let out, shower and then whatever is on my calendar for the day. Sometimes it is driving from the suburbs to Chicago to stop by my restaurants and during my drive, fit in as many conference calls. Regardless of what the day consists of, I will always have some type of phone call with someone and this will be all before 10 a.m.
What inspired you to be a chef?
Since I could remember I was always in the kitchen helping my mom and grandma cook. In fact, this led to being my first job working in the kitchen of a restaurant. So I guess you could say my mom and grandma inspired me.
Who’s your mentor?
Simone Mugnaini – He was the guy that gave me my first job when I was 11 and then I spent following 10 years shadowing him in all the restaurant operations he had in Italy and eventually we would form a business partnership.
Describe your formal training
It would be, “Street Smarts versus Book Smart” although I went to culinary school I pretty much self-taught. I did go to school to get school credit. I worked in restaurants for the last 30 years and the majority of my knowledge was by experience in the kitchen rather than the books.
What do you cook at home?
Basically, when you have a three-year-old and being on the go all the time you make what he likes so I’ll make anything and everything. One of his favorite dishes is easy and healthy though. I’ll grab some cottage cheese, avocado, and EVOO then I’ll mix them together and boom, you have a dish any three-year-old will enjoy. Other than that you can find me always making breakfast, lunch and dinner for my family when I’m home. I mean, when you live with a professional chef, why not?
What’s your favorite dish?
I got to tell you, I make the best chicken noodle soup. I’m not kidding, if you want to try it out go to my website: www.fabioviviani.com/chicken-noodle-soup/ and I’ll give you the recipe to try for yourself.
What’s your favorite holiday dish?
Around the holidays I like to stick to what I’m best at making; which is pasta. One of my favorite dishes to cook is lasagna. I use the same recipe I use at my restaurants Bar Siena and Siena Tavern and include homemade pasta, béchamel, and some kind of meat sauce. The dish is delicious, filling and very easy to make.
What was the best day in the kitchen?
Honestly, if you have a job doing what you love then every day should be the best day, which I’m very grateful to be where I am at in life. However, if I have to pick out the best day I would say it was the first day of my first restaurant in America, which was Café Firenze. It was a moment that showed me I made it. I came to the United States more than 10 years ago not knowing a lick of English and very little to my name. So, going from basically nothing to that, I just knew I was doing something right and there was a lot more for me. It was inspiring.
Who is the coolest person you’ve cooked for?
William Shatner. We have spent a couple Thanksgivings together cooking and he is just a cool guy all around.
Tell us something you would like your followers to know about you
I have very little patience for stupidity and very little patience for loud people in the kitchen.
How do you end your day?
Ah man, relaxing. If I’m in Chicago it’s of course with my family. If I’m traveling I end it by calling my wife, talking to her and my son and then a good meal and I’m out – in bed, that is.
What’s the weirdest food combination that you enjoy?
Alligator fritters with tartar sauce
What’s the next new concept percolating in your world?
Next year, 2019, is going to be a big year for me and my business partners of DineAmic Group. Just in Chicago, I’ll be opening a few restaurants, which includes one of my favorite concepts BomboBar. We are opening a second location in the Old Town Chicago neighborhood and serving everyone’s favorite bomboloni, and more savory items where we utilize the bomboloni, like the BomboBurger and BomboBird, that is our version of a chicken sandwich. I’m really excited for this one, because not only will it be our first, duplicate location in the same city, but it will also be a bigger location than the original West Loop spot which will allow us to present a lot more to the fans of the eatery.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Stay ambitious and tenacious and keep doing what you love. Don’t be afraid to fail, you will only learn from it. If you want to turn cooking into a profession, then get out there, talk to people, network yourself and see how far you can go.
What advice would you give to cooks at home?
Cooking can be intimidating with complicated recipes, but if you are looking to better yourself then keep cooking. Practicing it can only improve everything you do.