Fabio Viviani might have caught the public's eye during season five of Bravo's Top Chef, but he's been in the restaurant industry since he was a teen. The Florence native began cooking in family kitchens as a child before landing his first job at the age of 14 at Trattoria Il Pallaio. Now the handsome chef is the owner and executive chef of Cafe Firenze and Firenze Osteria (both in California) and Siena Tavern in Chicago, with a Siena Tavern outpost set to take over the old China Grill space in South Beach this fall.
Viviani recently chatted with New Times about Siena Tavern, fame, and why paying a lot for a bottle of wine is absolutely ridiculous.
New Times: First off, what's the ETA of Siena Tavern opening in Miami Beach?
Fabio Viviani: We're in full construction mode -- concrete, pipes, electrical. We're also working on the menu and the cocktail and wine list. We're like white on rice. We're good. We can't wait to open so we can serve you guys.
When we last spoke, you said you would alter the menu from your Chicago location. How is that going?
Look, I understand my Chicago menu will only apply to Miami so much. We have to adapt to Miami culture and expectations. With that in mind, we're going to work with local vendors, and we have some very cool guys doing the mixology program.
Who are they?
If I give everything to you right now, what else are we going to talk about in a few weeks?
Let's talk about the food. Who's running the show at Siena Tavern Miami?
I am the executive chef, and two of my best men in Chicago are coming down here and just running the world. Of course, I need a good team. This is a 400-seat restaurant. We'll have like 30 people in the kitchen. Everyone has to be comfortable enough to create a great menu.
Are you sourcing local ingredients?
For the past few years, I have been doing my homework. We are tasting, traveling, negotiating now.
You're the owner of several restaurants located in California and Chicago. How committed are you to this Miami location? Will we see you there?
Do you want to know some news that no one else has? I am so committed to this restaurant that I am getting my own place in Miami. My lease starts in July, so I'll spend pretty much the whole summer here, working on Siena Tavern. Of course, I have to travel for work, but Miami will be my home base.
Top Chef has launched the careers of many chefs. How do you think it helped you?
Honestly? Can I be a little cocky here? There have been 13 seasons of Top Chef. That makes over 300 "cheftestants" during that time, yet you only really hear about a handful of chefs who have their own restaurant. I lost Top Chef twice. When people call me a celebrity, I laugh at them. But I am doing what I love. I have restaurants. I have cookbooks. Television did help, and I'm very fortunate, so don't get me wrong. I feel the exposure has helped to give national attention to what I was going to be anyway, but television didn't teach me English. If you go back in history, I was one of the few contestants who already had his own restaurant. Television is not paying my bills. If you're poised for success, being on television will speed up the process. If you look like an idiot, television will just showcase that.
You're also launching a line of wines. I've had some great bottles of wine in Italy for less than ten euros. Are Americans paying too much for wine?
You have to understand that in Italy, $50 is the average budget to drink wine -- for the entire month. Ninety-nine percent of Americans cannot afford $100 bottles of wine. I'm trying to get people to understand that you shouldn't. I'm doing a wine line because I know the different regions and different blends. I know how to drink good wine. Wine is not difficult. You should be able to buy a bottle of wine for less than $18. Sure, you should splurge on an expensive wine once in a while, but everyday wine should not break the bank.
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I am the owner of a meatball that has its own Twitter account, and I'm coming to Miami.