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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Greatest Channel Surfing Moment in History: The Fabulous Funnyman Fabio Interview

Fabio Viviani has a simple motto in life: “It is what it is.”

The latest victim of Bravo’s “Top Chef” uses the expression to talk about the elimination challenge that had him packing his knives Wednesday, life on the reality cooking competition and life in general.

The Florence, Italy, native’s sense of humor provides the framework for his “take life as it comes” approach. It’s also the reason producers gave the Italian Stallion so much interview time on the show — who else among the cheftestants could turn a simple explanation into a bumper sticker quote?

Maybe it’s that charming Italian-accented English. Maybe it’s his enthusiasm. Maybe it’s his ability to admit a few mistakes (“I’m a cook. I am not a magician.”) Whatever it is, it’s working.

After his exit from the show, TV’s newest celebrity chef spoke with the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Channel Surfing blog about his love of Italian food, how he’s handling fame, and of course, the show’s Super Bowl challenge that had him stirring up local cuisine after he was unexpectedly matched with the Green Bay Packers.

(BONUS! Hear the audio files from our interview with Fabio. Just click on the links below.)

Fabio: I apologize I didn’t kick Spike’s a-- on the Green Bay challenge, but you know what, it is what it is. I done a perfect venison, it sat there for a little bit, was very thin and it got overcooked. I apologize.

Channel Surfers: It’s OK, you still did us proud.
Fabio: I try to make something sexy for the cheese maker in Wisconsin. And that dude over there, I don’t even remember his name (guest judge Scott Conant), he told me my salad was missing lemon, and I said listen, “I will let you come to the people of Wisconsin and see what they think about put lemon on cheese.’’

CS: Yeah, you don’t do that.
Fabio: See, tell him. Do an interview with him and tell him Fabio's the judges, not you.

We're just sorry you had to work with venison.
Fabio: It’s alright. I love venison, I can not problem with venison, my problem come with, I cook a piece of venison, I let it sit on top of hot potatoes, with hot sauce on it for 10 minutes, it’s not getting eat. It’s a very thin portion, what you want me to do? I’m a cook, I’m not a magician.

CS: So, did you know anything about Green Bay before you did the (Super Bowl) challenge?
Fabio: You know guys, I do apologize, but I like soccer a lot. So I don’t know a whole lot about NFL. When I done it, I said, “Guys, it does not matter to me, so you pick whoever you wanted and I go with the rest.” But I was very, very happy. You know, the propane and cheese. I love cheese. And you know, that was a great challenge for me.

CS: Were you bitter about being eliminated so close to the finale?
Fabio: You know, I’m happy. I want to tell you one thing, last night I was at Craftsteak with (head judge Tom) Colicchio looking at the show. The restaurant was packed full and when I got kicked out, everybody started crying, “Boo hoo, boo hoo,” to the TV and I was laughing my a-- off. At the challenge, they told me, “Fabio, you may go home tonight,” and I was like, “Well big deal, what you want me to do, cry? It’s national TV, I’m not going to look like a fool, if I go home tonight, I go home tonight, how does that sound?” It’s a game. You can’t always win. As long as my restaurant is successful, I’m happy. And my restaurant is successful. You know, my business is great, my book is coming out, I’m getting a lot of contracts — you’ll see me very soon again. So my life is very happy in this moment, in this bad economy. So if I go home, you know, I can live with that.

CS: What was going through your mind when (host) Padma (Lakshmi) asked you to pack your knives and go? You looked really surprised.
Fabio: I was a little bit surprised though, because all the judges they did all bunch of critiques to Stefan’s plate and they did lot of compliment on mine. So I was surprised that they decided to send me home, but in the end, it’s the judges’ opinion, it doesn’t really matter. I think the reason why he stayed and I went home was because he did two dishes that they were straightforward from New Orleans and I did one New Orleans and one Italian.

So, you know, Italian food is what I do. If you ask me to do sushi sashimi, I can probably put something out but it’s nothing that I’m happy to do. I was happy to do New Orleans food, I had a chance to throw in something Italian. I done it, it was an unhappy choice and I pay for it. It’s OK. It is what it is.

CS: Did you get the sense that it was more the producers' choice, or do you think that was the judges' true choice to send you home?
Fabio: Producer guys, I don’t think they have a whole lot to do with it. It comes down to the food. And it is what it is, guys. I don’t have control what goes on behind the scenes. I'm not there when they make their decisions. So I just agree with them, or like I said, I can agree to disagree. I don’t make drama out of things. I’m not a drama queen. So you won’t drama with me, you won’t get tears with me, you’ll laugh with me, yes, I like that.

But it’s the judge’s decision, it’s the producer’s decision, it doesn’t matter. I’m not there anymore. Whoever decision who made it, he made the wrong decision for me, but I guess it was the right one for them. So they’re happy, I could be happier, of course, if I was in the finale. But I’m happy anyway, like I said I was laughing my a-- off.

So what are you doing now? You mentioned things are going well with your restaurant and a new book?
Fabio: My book is coming out on April 15, “The Café Firenze Cookbook.” It'll be nationwide everywhere, Wal-Mart, Cost-Co, Target, Sam’s Club, Barnes and Noble. I’m opening my Web site and foundation, which is, which I’m trying to promote wellness and good nutrition through families and kids. And then I’m opening two other restaurants in Ventura County (Calif.). I have a consulting company and I just opened a catering business. Plus I’m doing my own line of chef products, plus I’m about to starting to write a second book. ...

CS: So do you sleep at all?
Fabio: I sleep on Wednesday and Friday. (Laughs)

CS: What was your favorite challenge? Was it the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Challenge, maybe?
Fabio: fabiochallenge.mp3 I didn’t really have a favorite challenge, really. I’m very happy that I done really well in the challenge that matters to me — (the show your) craft, I won, the morning (Today) show, I was in the top three, I won the restaurant wars with the service, I was in the top three in Le Bernadin (chef Eric Ripert’s restaurant) and I won the last one. The one that went wrong, I don’t know what to do with oatmeal. It doesn’t really change my life. I don’t even eat it. Martha Stewart doesn’t like my food. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t even know who Martha Stewart is. What else? I did so and so with a can of food. Too bad I don’t eat can of food at this point.

I’m happy guys, I’m really happy with what I’ve done. You know, somebody said my crab cake for the 12 days of Christmas challenge was a little bit greasy, you know, I was cooking out of a freaking camp burner and had like a $500 budget for 300 people and they got upset with us because we did deviled eggs. You know, you have $500 for 300 people, thank God they got to eat something. You know? It is what it is, guys. You gotta roll with the punches. I had fun. Everybody’s been great in the show and again, it’s a show. It’s a show on the food competition, so challenges have to be entertaining, you know. It’s a TV show. I did enjoy it a lot doing it, I would do it again. Great exposure, I got some good friends, all the people behind the scenes, everybody was great. No regrets at all.

I just have a little regret that I cannot kick Stefan’s a-- next Wednesday. This guy’s gonna win probably, hopefully — if he doesn’t get too confident again. He’s gonna win. He had one chance to lose and that chance was me, and now that I’m gone, he’s probably going to get the title.

CS: Speaking of entertaining, can you actually cook monkey a--? And how would that work in a clam shell?
Fabio: I am able to cook monkey a--, but the only problem is I’m really sorry for the little monkey. Let’s set this straight, I had two, three beer. I had to do this interview. It was late at night. I was very, very tired. I was very happy that I was running the front of the house (in the Restaurant Wars challenge.) So I come up saying something that I could’ve done it, you know, you don’t do monkey a-- with fried banana in it or in empty clam shells. So that was just to represent how confident I was in the dining room. I never had to cook it, lucky enough. In the restaurant business, who knows, I may cook it tomorrow in some restaurant in a remote island, some natives who want monkey a--, I guess I'd have to. But you know, I never said it twice. That was one sentence that they spread in two episodes. I don’t have a thing with monkey a--. I’ve never had one, I hope I never have to. I think monkeys are great. I’m a great supporter of PETA. I will never slaughter a monkey to get the a--.

CS: You did really well in the last meal challenge for famous chefs. If you could have a chef cook you a last meal, who would it be and what would you have them cook?
Fabio: That would be my grandma. She died two years ago. She was the best cook that I ever met in my life. And she probably would've done some fresh pasta and some chicken as well, I guess. That would be it.

CS: So the night you made it to the semifinals, how did you celebrate?
Fabio: I won the bottle of Terlato for winning the challenge and that bottle between me and Hosea was gone in about one hour. I was hammered. I was in the house and it took me like two and a half hours to go from the second floor to the ground level. It was brutal. But we were happy. Hosea got the things going with Leah, they were happy together. So I got the fun. I got the s---stick. I couldn’t really be happy with my better half because he looks like, well, it’s Stefan. So I decided to party with the bottle of wine.

CS: We hear you’re the private chef for William Shatner?
Fabio: fabioshatner.mp3 Yes, he’s actually one of my best friends in this country. I cook for him. He’s a great character and we have some business together. He's helping me with my Web site, you know, the kidshealthcafe Web site and I help him with his foundation. So he's a good person to know and a great person to be with. Truly honest, smart, very, very talented person. He deserves everything he has. ... We go along very well. He likes simple foods. He is here and he comes to my restaurant pretty much every other day, for lunch, and he never orders off the menu. Ever. Never touches the menu. He come to me, and he goes, "Are you going to sit down with me?" and I'm like, "Sure, let's eat something." I make something for him, I make something for me, he likes it, get a coffee, go away, (and he) shows up the next day. It's a great relationship.

CS: You talked about leaving Italy in late 2005 to come to America. Do you miss Italy?
Fabio: FabioItaly.mp3 I decided to leave Italy because there is one problem: there are too many Italians there. I had a huge business, I had several restaurants and I had a dance club and things were getting a little bit out of control. So before I fell flat on my face without a safety net, I decided to sell everything and move. One of my best friends, which is my actual partner, was managing this restaurant in downtown Ventura (County) and he got me a spot as executive chef. So after one year, in beginning of 2007, we did open our restaurant, Café Firenze, and the rest is the story. You know that.

CS: So you’re opening two restaurants, would you ever consider opening one in Green Bay?
Fabio: Well, one for sure in downtown Ventura and the next one, I think at this point, I’ll come to Wisconsin, how’s that?

What would be your specialty there?
Fabio: Let me guess, sashimi sushi? No. I'm Italian food, guys, really, give me a break on that. I do Italian food. People are trying to make me to cook Lousiana, sushi sashimi, vegan, I do Italian food. There's nothing vegan about it, there's nothing, it's Italian food. That's what I do.

CS: How's your mom doing?
Fabio: My mom, she's great, thank you for asking. And this thing has been a little misunderstood, she's not dying. She's not dying but she's sick. She has a calcium deficit in her bones and her joints in the wrists and the hands are falling apart. So she's almost paralyzed with her hands and every six months she needs to have surgery. And the surgery is really expensive and guess who's paying for it so far. So in Italy the economy is really bad, so they don't have money to do it, so I send money over there every month. It doesn't really matter if you have to help your mom or you gotta buy a microwave, if the next day you have $100,000 more in your checking account, that's nice. So that's why I said what I said.

CS: Well, we don't want to take up too much of your time. We know you're a busy man but we do want to let you know you have quite the fan support here in Green Bay.
Fabio: Nice! I would love to come there one day. Thank you so much! Have a great evening and I do apologize to the cheesemaker in Wisconsin.

Don't forget to watch the "Top Chef" finale at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo. Check back to Channel Surfing before, during and after the finale for our take on crowning the new "Top Chef."

-- Sara Boyd, and Malavika Jagannathan,

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I admire your professionalism. If I did this interview and asked the monkeya-- clamshells question, I'd have to add "[anxious, I can't believe I'm asking this giggle]" into the transcript.

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At February 21, 2009 at 9:15 AM  

Well, if we'd included the audio of the clip were we did ask the question (I tried my best to edit it out), believe me, you would have heard the giggles.

Also, if anyone is wondering this is the GREATEST CHANNEL SURFING MOMENT EVER we were hawking earlier :)


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 21, 2009 at 9:22 AM  

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