With a name like Fabio, he was destined for superstardom.
Perhaps best known for his appearance on Season 5 of Bravo’s reality series Top Chef, Florence, Italy, native Fabio Viviani earned the title of “Fan Favorite” not only for his dashing good looks and animated personality, but for his authentic Italian cuisine representative of his homeland.
The celebrated restaurateur and cookbook author later competed on Top Chef All Stars and a spinoff show, Life After Top Chef, and Wednesday night at the Fort Worth Central Market, he’ll help kick off Passaporto Italia, a 14-day festival celebrating Italian cuisine and taking place at all Central Market stores through May 13.
“I’m a big meat and game fanatic,” Viviani said of his upcoming visit to Fort Worth. “So you guys have a lot of good food that’s right up my alley.”
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But it was baked goods that helped launch Viviani’s culinary career. At age 11 he worked nights at a local bakery to help pay for his mother’s medical bills. By 16, he became a sous-chef at a popular Italian trattoria, then opened a restaurant of his own two years later.
Today Viviani owns be-seen Italian eateries in Los Angeles, Chicago and, soon, Miami, and is a recurring cooking segment guest on shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, The Chew, Ellen and Access Hollywood.
“I’m not a celebrity,” Viviani said. “I’m just a very busy guy that happened to be on TV. I lost the show twice. I’m just a chef with a lot of restaurants and a lot of things going on who once in a while goes on TV.”
Having growing up with a chicken coop, Viviani said roasted chicken and pasta made with fresh eggs were dinnertime staples during childhood. “It was one of the few things we were eating growing up because the eggs were free.”
But Americans’ perception of Italian food doesn’t match the light and flavorful dishes Viviani knows and loves, he said.
“They feel it’s too heavy … pasta, pizza, gelato,” he said. “Well, guys, moderation is key. If you eat a pound of pasta, of course it’s too much. The reality is Italian food is rich in flavor, not in calories, necessarily. But you’ve got to check your diet and if you overeat, don’t blame my country. We don’t have 14-inch pizzas for $5.99. That’s your fault, not mine.”
Italian food fans will have an opportunity to experience authentic Italian specialties during Passaporto Italia, when all Central Market stores will import pastas, wines, risottos, parmigiano Reggiano from Reggio-Emilia and artisanal cheeses and meats that Viviani calls must-haves.
“Real artisanal cold cuts and cheeses are among the things America has not had a clear idea of,” Viviani said. “There is a lot of labeling that says artisanal, but some artisanal in the United States is far away from what we feel is artisanal. There is no machinery, no preservatives, no coloring, nothing artificial, everything is natural or minimally processed, and everything has a very short expiration date.”
The festival will offer myriad cheese and wine tastings, live cooking demonstrations and classes with other Italian chefs. At the Southlake store, a free Italian Risotto Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday; a Grape Stomp will close the festival there May 13.
One of the festival classes offered at the Fort Worth store is Italian Restaurant Survival Skills ($35), at which “instructors will prepare a traditional Italian meal, served in its proper sequence from antipasti to dolce, while Susan Nus, Italian Instructor at Texas Christian University, teaches you essential restaurant vocabulary,” the description says.
For those visiting Italy soon, Viviani makes a generous offer:
“Shoot me an email (at email@example.com, or through the website www.fabioviviani.com) before you eat anywhere,” he says, “because Italy is full of two things — great places to go and tourist traps.”