It was 6:30 p.m. in California and chef Fabio Viviani hadn't eaten yet. Instead, as he spoke by phone from his Ventura County home, he stood in his kitchen, dipping two fingers in a jar of Nutella. Ladies, we can hear you sighing at that image.
The Top Chef Season 5 fan favorite, Viviani's hunky Italian looks and vivacious personality made him one of television's sexiest chefs until, alas, he was ousted from Top Chef over a hamburger (the judges condemning it as "more like a meatball"). So, are hamburgers forever freighted for this Italian-born dynamo who will offer a dinner and culinary demonstrations at MOSI's 18th Einstein on Food & Wine festival?
"I serve a hamburger in my restaurant all the time — and they are better than they ever were," he said, adding that despite the burger defeat, his experience on Top Chef was a good one.
"I feel very blessed. I don't know about the sex appeal stuff. For me really it was more like I was the Italian guy. I can't even speak English. But Top Chef changed everything for me. I was taken by storm."
Since being a Top Chef All-Star and a big presence on Life After Top Chef, Viviani, 35, has stayed busy. With one cookbook in print and seven digital books, he has two restaurants in California (Cafe Firenze and Osteria Firenze) with another on the way, and four restaurants in Illinois. He hosts "Chow Ciao!" on Yahoo, has a line of martinis and is working on a website about healthy dining for kids.
About what advice he'd give to aspiring chefs versus aspiring television chefs, he had this to say.
"My thought is, a $100,000 culinary education will not guarantee you to be a chef. Ninety-five percent of people are not living the dream right out of culinary school. If you really want to do something, you have to translate it into action. I'm all about pursuing your dream. If you do, you get my deepest respect. If you are waiting around holding your socks in your hand, you are going to die miserable."
Socks in hand? Must be an Italian thing. But what about how to become a celebrity chef on television?
"You think Mario Batali or Michael Symon give a crap about being on television? No, because they are fantastic restaurateurs. I have been blessed being on TV, but if you get tired of me, I'm still making a living. A study asked kids whether they'd like to be a reality television star or win a Nobel Prize and most kids said reality TV," Viviani said, punctuating what he thinks of that with an expletive. "Go get a life, and then if you have the personality, then you can try out for TV."
A passionate position, for sure. (Almost as passionate as his stance on cilantro: "It's not that I don't like it, I hate it, I wish I could go back in time and kill the person who discovered it.") Doubtless he will bring some of this passion to his Einstein on Food & Wine festival dinner on Friday, which he will cook in a private home on Bayshore Boulevard. When asked about the details, he said only, "Fun is guaranteed. Bring your party pants."
Party pants, no socks in hand — check. But really, what will he be cooking at the festival dinner?
"We're going to rock the house. When the kitchen is rocking, don't bother knocking, come on in."
That leaves the menu a little mysterious. But it probably doesn't involve cilantro.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter at @lreiley.