The sounds coming from the Food 52 kitchen are Motown — not chosen by "Top Chef" fan favorite Fabio Viviani. He prefers the energy of heavy metal, like Kiss and Poison, though “AC/DC is good but it’s too complicated for cooking.”
It helps that he’s working with the foods of his homeland: Grana Padano and Montasio cheeses, and the prosciuttos of San Daniele and Parma. “I grew up with these ingredients,” says the Florence-born Viviani. “For me it's not even work, for me it's, ‘Keep eating prosciutto di Parma.’” He punctuates this by stealing a bite from the display along the front of his counter.
Not winning “Top Chef” (twice!) hasn’t exactly dampened his Stateside ambitions — he talks about them like blips on the radar of his career, which began at the age of 11 when he started (unofficially) working at a bakery in Florence. Viviani has several restaurants here and in Italy, as well as his own line of wines (“I've been a wine drinker for the last 30 years, and I'm 36!”) and cookware.
Prosciutto: The process of creating prosciutto goes back centuries, and the longer the meat is aged (usually between 15 and 24 months), the sweeter it becomes. Viviani pairs the San Daniele with cantaloupe for an amuse bouche, and the Parma goes around a meatloaf: Because of its high fat, its becomes a crust that holds the meats together.
Grana Padano: Made in the “Napa of Italy,” this cheese has a mineral quality because the cows in that region drink water that flows down from the mountains. It’s the kind of cheese that should be paired with wine, rather than charcuterie, and added as an accent on top of finished dishes.
Montasio: Use this cheese for melting when it’s young, between two and three months. With age, it becomes more pungent and the flavor takes on an assertive nuttiness. Viviani recommends using it in a cayenne pepper-spiked grilled cheese sandwich.
Things get a little more complicated once Viviani gets behind the chef’s counter trying to fire up the stove. In the end, he has to call over one of the staff to explain the induction cooktop. “What does 9 mean? I know medium heat but is 9, like, purgatory?”
“I cook with fire; I can't cook with technology,” he jokes. “That's why I teach, ‘Cook with common sense, not technology.’”
As an entertainer (as chefs have always been, though moreso now) Viviani stresses pleasing guests not just when they take a bite but throughout the cooking process. When it comes to dinner parties at home, “It's not the time to impress anybody with a lengthy cooking technique, that's done.”
“People are sick and tired of waiting too much time in the kitchen for something," he continues. "At the end of the day you're putting it in your mouth and chewing and eating."
That kitchen common sense builds up one recipe at a time, so pick something simple, get quality ingredients, and just start cooking. Take it from him: “I'm a firm believer that good food, it's very simple to make."