Turn up the Volume

Celebrity chef Fabio Viviani talks setbacks, successes, and snacks for his toddler.

Amelia Rodriguez Current Digital, Restaurants

Chef Fabio Viviani, who will give a cooking demonstration at 12:45 p.m. March 23, has built a culinary empire.

Fabio Viviani doesn’t listen to music while cooking.

“When I was 13 or 14 years old,” says the restaurateur and Food Network star, “during one of my very first experiences in a professional kitchen, I was listening to heavy-metal — I love heavy-metal music — but it’s not suitable when you’re working with blades. I [chopped] off my pinky on my left hand.”

Viviani’s admirers (he was voted Fan Favorite after his first turn on Top Chef) will recall that all 10 of his fingers are fully intact. Doctors made sure he kept his pinky, and, even at that age, his passion signaled he’d quickly return to the kitchen. But he wouldn’t listen to music while he was there.

Saturday, March 23
Grand Tasting

Located in Pacific Sales Kitchen & Home
Demo Tent 2

12:45  p.m.: Chef demo
and book signing.

$135 Premier Pass, $100 General

For ticket information, visit palmdesertfoodandwine.com.

Born in Florence, Italy, Viviani was a precocious toddler who liked to bake Italian apple pie alongside his grandmother. By age 11, he was whipping up pastries at a local bakery; 15 years later, he owned 10 businesses, including seven restaurants.

Most would be content to call it a day and work on building their nest egg, but in 2005 Viviani sold all 10 ventures and moved to California. There was an adjustment period, mostly to the food “abundance problem” in the United States and also to the typical American meal schedule. “In Italy, I couldn’t go for dinner until 9 p.m.,” he says. “Now, if I don’t eat something by 5:30 p.m., I’m a cranky guy.”

Once he recovered from the culture shock (and grew to appreciate the variety of food that “super” markets offer), Viviani set out to build what is now a culinary empire, with 24 restaurants and another dozen opening in 2019, plus four cookbooks, a line of cookware in partnership with Bialetti, and an eponymous (and affordable) selection of wines.

Despite a few mishaps along the way — in addition to the pinky incident, Viviani and his catering team once dropped a 7-foot-tall wedding cake, right in front of the bride — the staggering highs have ensured that the lows warrant little more than a chuckle. “Although [the restaurant business] takes everything you have,” Viviani says, “it will give you everything, too.”

Also a husband, and father to a 3 ½-year-old, Viviani says he stays at home with his family — his “everything” — as often as possible, cooking his son’s favorite meals (like baked honey ham and guacamole) and watching The Walking Dead (zombies fascinate his son).

Otherwise, “I’m just trying to catch a nap every once in a while,” he admits. That’s understandable, considering the pace he keeps every day. A good rest always serves his amiable disposition, which seems to measure into  his success.

“It takes a kind human being to [have] success in the restaurant business,” he says. “Because it’s a people industry, and the only way to make it work … is if you have a long history of doing good for people, being good to them.”

And if prosperity depends on connecting with others, in and out of the kitchen, well, all the more reason to keep the headphones off.