He's not meek, and he's not shy. He eschews traditional chef uniform whites for head-to-toe black and finishes off the look with chunky plastic eyeglasses, multiple beaded bracelets, a lime-green G-Shock watch, and a mane of hair that would make John Stamos jealous. He can tell you the top eateries from Spain to Vancouver. The half-Italian, half-Argentine Giorgio Rapicavoli is as happy to share opinions as a heaping helping of cobbler or carbonara, and he was born and bred in Miami. Those are just a few of the reasons we adore the executive chef of 660 at the Angler's.
Rapicavoli has worked with a number of talented chefs, including Adam Votaw, Robin Haas, and Jesse Souza, but quickly decided culinary school just wasn't a good fit after working in the biz. "When I was 17, I started at Chispa in Coral Gables. I started going to Johnson & Wales. It sucked. It was the worst thing ever. I had a 3.99. I was summa cum laude, dean's list, because it was so easy for me," he says. "I only did two years. It was kinda like everything [I] learned in school didn't matter once I started working in a restaurant. It was basically whatever Adam wanted was the way it was done." Rapicavoli worked salads, ceviche, a cold station -- eventually the whole line -- until becoming Chispa's executive pastry chef at the Doral location. "It was more money," he says of his unorthodox transition from savory to sweet. "And I got to go home smelling like vanilla and chocolate instead of fryer grease."
Just a few years later, Rapicavoli became chef de cuisine at 21 years old. "I was super-arrogant," he admits. After that restaurant closed, he worked with Arthur Artiles at Brosia and then was hired as an executive sous chef at the Angler's in January 2009. But in just a few months, he had taken over the ship. "The menu is just a lot of what I like to eat. Some comfort food," he says. "It's more ingredient-based than process. There's not a lot of prep in the kitchen."
Composing only a three-member kitchen staff, the 24-year-old Rapicavoli and his crew churns out menu items ranging from kicky bulgogi tacos to a melt-in-your-mouth hunk of braised pork belly with maple syrup, sweet potato, pecans, and smoked oil, along with custom cocktails to match. And that's just for starters.
If you want to experience ASAP what he can do, we have two suggestions: Check out the Angler's weekend brunch, including Rapicavoli's soon-to-be-famous banana-and-Nutella pancakes ($10) and the bottomless bloody mary bar ($14) beginning tomorrow, or join the famous Algonquin Dinner Clubbers
and partake in their "Hamptons-Style Sophisticated Lobster Boil" dinner event there Monday, July 12. The cost is $40 per person.
But before engaging Rapicavoli in discussion, read on:
New Times: When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
Giorgio Rapicavoli: It's all I've known. When my mom was pregnant with me, she would only watch cooking shows. And when I was a kid, I would watch cooking shows with my mom. I remember making scrambled eggs, and I burnt the hell out of my arm and I was pissed because I wanted to learn how to do them right. I was 7 or 8.
Anyone else in your family a chef?
No. They just eat.
What was your first restaurant job?
I worked at Sakura in Doral when I was 14. I started as a busboy and was illegally working in the kitchen. I worked there throughout high school.
You got so close to finishing your degree. Why didn't you just stick it out?
Culinary degrees are looked down upon in the restaurant industry anyway. Kids go to culinary school thinking they'll leave a chef, but they leave a cook.
Onto Angler's. What's your best-selling menu item?
The carbonara. It shows what I try to do with food. It's a classic... and I kinda tweaked it. I add bread crumbs on top because I like it to have a textural component.
Still do the sweet stuff?
I still do all the desserts. I love our cobbler. It's sweet and heavy and hot. The one on our menu is made with pears and apples and Xante. And we make our own streusel with a salted caramel on top. And the panna cotta's really good. It's the quintessential Italian dessert.
Who is the most impressive celebrity or person who makes you most nervous to cook?
The only people who make me nervous are my family. They're honest and they know good food. But I've cooked for Michael Jordan, Sammy Sosa, Bill Clinton.
What advice would you give a new chef?
Don't copy anyone. Don't do other people's dishes. Do your own thing. Don't even copy someone's style.
What city has the best culinary scene?
The number one culinary city is the Basque region in Spain. France is out.
So why did you stay in Miami?
I want Miami to have good food.
Look for Part 2 of this interview Monday to find out why Rapicavoli doesn't hang out with other chefs, loves Bob's Bunz, and considers studying black holes and synesthesia slightly more appealing than snacking on cheese puffs with Nutella.