Our weekly On the Line chef interviews are typically relaxed. There's small talk, sometimes we share a meal, but we can always count on them to be full of anecdotes and candor for the hour or so we spend with them. Celebrity chef interviews are more tricky. Our time is cut to less than 10 minutes, leaving little to work with. We shave down our list of questions and hope that our professionalism is rewarded. Having the opportunity to hand him a plate of fair food to his liking really helped, too.
Shortly before his cooking demonstration at OC Fair, Top Chef fan favorite Fabio Viviani allows us time to ask whatever we want. We served up a mix of questionnaire standards with a few our friends were dying to know. For someone who is both adored and teased for his accent, Fabio's responses were direct and (thankfully) easy to understand.
Has your fame from appearing on Top Chef and Storage Wars influenced your cooking? Have you remained true to your cooking beliefs, or have you changed based on your audience?
I just do whatever makes me happy. I try to please as many people as I can with my food. There's two sides to everything: the side where I have to please myself, with my food every day. But I also have to make a business, because I do this for a living and for pleasure. For pleasure, I do whatever the heck I want. For business, I have to make dishes that sometimes please people, but not necessarily ones that I would eat every day. They're still good. I'm proud of them, but I wouldn't eat them. And that's the part that makes me a smart businessman, rather than those chefs that have 100 dishes on the menu. And they're proud of 100 dishes, and people don't like 70 of those.
I run a business for a living, and I eat. I eat whatever makes me happy; no compromise. And I sell whatever people want to eat in my restaurant with my accent.
Has your restaurant changed since your television success?
It hasn't. My restaurant was very busy before the show. I'm opening another restaurant right now in Chicago. We're probably going to do something here in the Newport area. We're just looking for a spot. It hasn't changed the way I do business. It just made it busier.
When can we see you next on television?
I think October/November. I have a reality show coming out on Bravo. They just follow me around on camera. I just signed up for 17 more episodes of my online cooking show on Yahoo.com, Chow Ciao! We're killing it. We're the number one online food show worldwide. There are five to nine million viewers watching our episodes every week.
If you could have whatever you want for breakfast, what would it be?
I don't get up seeking to make breakfast, but I would have brioche toffee and cinnamon-glazed doughnut from a bakery in New York. I'd have lobster eggs Benedict from The Little Nell in Aspen. And I would love the pepper barbequed bacon from Ajax Tavern (also in Aspen). That's my breakfast, if I had to get up.
Any deep fried items you'd like to try?
I love chicken wings and onion rings. In Italy, we do a lot of crispy fried chicken with gravy and biscuits. There's no way you can miss it. It's all about moderation for fried food lovers.
Are you single?
I am not. I got divorced three-and-a-half years ago, and now I'm happily dating. As far as two days ago I was happy. Now, I never know. You know, ladies change. They're unique.
What other skills do you have besides cooking?
I am a great lover. I have a green thumb. I collect bonzai. I love turtles. I go fishing and boxing. I'm a man's man. The things I do besides garden are very manly. I also like shooting. We were shooting a sniper rifle, trying to hit a bottle cap from the dining room into the outdoors, with my mom in the kitchen going back and forth making noodles. She was like, “Boys! Stop shooting. I'm here!”
What is your earliest food memory?
Apple pie. I was three or four years old, and I still brag about it. I had my first glass of wine when I was five years old. The second one I had, I was five and twenty minutes.
Best food find.
I discovered avocados. I never had avocados until I moved to the states. And I'm pretty addicted to Cap'n Crunch. The regular one, though (no Crunch berries). I'm a Renaissance man, I go with tradition. I think Cap'n Crunch found a way to legalize crack cocaine, and inject it into food to get us addicted.
Padma or Gail?
How about both? I would go with both. Padma is exotic. Gail is a sweetheart. Why would I want to choose?
Hardest lesson you've learned.
I have two very good lessons. Life is hard. If you're stupid, it's even harder. Because the reality is that pride gets you in trouble, but stupidity keeps you there. And the other lesson I learned from my Grandpa is that success comes before work only in the dictionary. So if you want something, you've got to work your ass off.
Most unusual ingredient you've worked with.
Rattlesnake. It was weird. Tastes like gummy chicken.
Three ingredients you can't cook without.
Flour, eggs, olive oil. [Editor's Note: The only three things he needed in his pasta demonstration. He taught everyone how to make it fresh in under five minutes.]