Growing up in Florence, Italy, food was part of his life from the moment mamma sent him to gather eggs from the backyard for fresh pasta. At age 11, Viviani began working nights at a local bakery, and during his teens, Viviani worked in various restaurants, including at the bustling Ristorante Il Pallaio in Florence where he thrived under pressure and managed to work his way up to Sous Chef by the age of 16. A little over 10 years later, Viviani would own five restaurants in Florence, firmly establishing himself as one of Italy's top toques and businessmen long before Hollywood made him a household name.
Though I’m always willing to take a trip to Italy simply to eat (who isn't?), it’s a lot more economical to satiate my appetite for good Italian food by heading to my hometown of L.A. where Viviani’s Café Firenze in Moorpark and Firenze Osteria, which happens to be just a tomato’s throw from my mom’s house in North Hollywood, serve up some of the city's best. (Gnocchi with rabbit ragu? Si, grazie!)
Midwesterners take note: Viviani opened Siena Tavern in Chicago last February and has received accolades from Michigan Avenue, the Chicago Tribune, and around the web. And so as not to forget about out the southern half of the country, Viviani's newest restaurant of the same name (Siena Tavern) will open in South Beach, Miami in September of this year.
A cookbook author, reality TV star, restaurateur, and lover of food since his bambino days, it’s clear Viviani has mastered the art of serving copious amounts of la dolce vita anywhere he goes.
The Foodie 5
1. What is your favorite food memory from childhood?
Going to grab fresh eggs in my backyard, and running to the house to see my mom make fresh pasta and fresh breakfast for everybody.
2. You’re moving to a new kitchen in five minutes and can only take one gadget along with you. What do you grab and why?
My Vitamix – it’s a blender. Because anything can be turned into a delicious soup with a Vitamix and a half quart of chicken stock.
3. No one’s looking---What is your secret food fetish?
Nutella with my finger. (author's note: swoon!)
4. Someone is visiting your hometown (Florence, Itlay) for the first time. Where do you send him for dinner and what do you recommend he order?
Go to Ristorante Il Pallaio. There is a woman in the kitchen and her name is Mamma Rita. Ask for “Mamma Rita’s beef stew” or “Spezzatino della Mamma Rita.”
5. Congratulations, you have carte blanche to dine in any city or country in the world! Where would you go and why?
El Bulli – Ferran Adria’s former restaurant in Spain. It is one of the most famous restaurants in the world. Five or six years ago I got a reservation with a group of friends, and the day before I got really sick and couldn’t attend dinner.
And then they decided to close the restaurant.
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