Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chatting With Chef Fabio Viviani

You know that saying All Roads Lead to Rome? Well, if you're in Miami Beach, all roads lead to the corner of Wahington and 5th, and that's exactly where talented, charming (and stunningly handsome) award winning Chef Fabio Viviani is bringing his boldest venture yet: Siena Tavern.

Chef Fabio Viviani

Slated to open this Fall, Siena Tavern will feature Fabio's crowd-pleasing, made from scratch menu, prepared especially for the Miami crowd. As you know, Fabio Viviani is a household name, best known for his appearance on Season 5 of Bravo's hit reality series Top Chef in 2008, where he won the title of "Fan Favorite." He later returned in 2010 to compete in their To Chef All Stars Edition and a spinoff culinary reality show Life After Top Chef. Fabio has since been a recurring guest on shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, The Chew, Ellen and Access Hollywood, and has authored two successful cookbooks. Now he is bringing new life to the old China Grill location and has plans to make it a refined yet welcoming Italy meets the Magic City spot, where locals and tourists alike will come for the pasta of a lifetime, along with other creations he has put together to complement our Miami heat.

I recently had lunch with Fabio and we talked about his upcoming plans and how excited he is to be a part of the Miami dining scene. With his usual charm and down-to-earth demeanor, he described what we can expect when Siena Tavern opens this coming November and how he plans to win our hearts and appetites.

With Chef Fabio Viviani

The Foodaholic: You have several restaurants in Chicago and Los Angeles. What made you decide to come to Miami and what do you envision Siena Tavern to become?

Fabio Viviani: For us, it is all about creating a good concept that appeals to locals. Five or six years ago, I probably wouldn't have come to Miami for business because it is very seasonal. Lately though, Miami has changed and more people live here and stay here year round. There are enough people to justify a business like the one we have planned. While we have restaurants in Chicago and in L.A., this is our biggest and boldest project. It has taken a lot of time to put it together and that is why I have now moved here. Of course, I will still have to go back and forth, but Siena Tavern is going to be our main focus for the next several months. We are trying to create a spot that is good for everyday. It is going to be a series of things all at once: puzzling, happening, refined but casual too. It is going to be approachable but exclusive as well. We are going to deliver a nice ambiance with an impressive decor, coupled with good service and excellent food, all the while keeping it to an accessible price point. There are plenty of restaurants in Miami where if you want to spend two or three hundred dollars per person, you can. But people that live here and justify a business year round don't go there everyday. If you come and eat with us, and you want to have a pizza and a beer, you're going to spend only $20. So for us it is important to create a sense of community and to create a venue that allows people to come 2, 3, or 4 times a week. That is why we are so busy in Chicago. The quality is amazing but we are also very affordable.

T.F.: What's going to be the average price for dishes in Siena Tavern?

F.V.:  Appetizers will range from $10-$16, pastas for $12-14 to $20 for truffles. It will be very reasonable and very similar to the prices in Chicago. Thirty-five to forty-five dollars per person for a dinner. You can go with your girlfriend or boyfriend and have a good time without spending one hundred dollars per person.

T.F.: The culture is different here than in Chicago. What are you going to do to appeal to this market?

F.V.: Here's my thinking, the culture is very different but so is Chicago compared to L.A. and New York compared to Miami. Culture is culture. You can't change them but you can change the way you adapt your food and service to the culture. Of course if we have heavier hand pizzas in Chicago, we are not going to have those here in Miami. Certain pasta we make in Chicago, we are going to work in a way that is a bit lighter. We don't have to serve food here that we serve to people living in 10 degrees below zero. It is really hot in Miami, so our food will focus more on fish, seasonal ingredients, and local farms. For us, however, the entertainment component is the same. People love to have fun in Chicago the way they have fun in Miami . But the way you approach food and drink changes so that's what we need to adapt. For everything else, we will just be ourselves.

T.F.: Who's going to be leading your kitchen here in Miami?

F.V.:  Our number one chef here in Siena Tavern in Miami is Paolo Del Papa, the former chef at renowned Casa Tua.  We also have a really good chef coming out from New York and a strong local sous chef as well. Paolo will drive the operations day in and day out. He's one of the guys that made the Miami dining scene what it is today and now I have him. He's the best.

T.F.: Do you have your menu ready?

F.V.: We are planning to serve a lot of crudos and lighter versions of our pastas. Our pizza is great, super thin, crisp yet a little bit crunchy. We have been measuring the humidity in the air for the past two months just to create the perfect dough. The problem I have with a lot of pizzas in Miami is that they are very chewy because there is a lot moisture. The same thing that happens with hair, happens with pizzas. When there is too much humidity, the pizza becomes chewy, gummy, and it feels heavy. So we have to compensate for that and that is how particular we are going to be.

T.F.: Are you going to source ingredients locally?

F.V.: Yes, as much as I can. There are ingredients I have to have from Italy. For example, we mill our own flour in Italy, the tomatoes have to be a certain way. But besides those few ingredients that I need specifically from the region, I will source the rest locally because I like to support the economy and I like to support the community. You can't use everything local because of seasonality, so maybe 30-40 percent of the menu usually has to come from elsewhere, but anything that we can use from here, we definitely will.  Imagine, Burrata from Miami doesn't sound so right, just like Plantains from Italy wouldn't work. You have to stick with what's best where it's best.

T.F.: Sometimes people complain about the service in Miami. How do you plan to approach that?

F.V.: I feel part of the reason Miami service is sometimes described as not very good is because the seasonality does not allow for continuity. There are a lot of good servers in Miami, but they are just in a few of the restaurants. Everybody else gets what's in season. What we do is that we pay well, we take care of our employees very well and we train them for a month and a half before we put them on the floor. If you don't convince me, you are not going to serve my customers. And trust me, I'm a hard one to convince.

T.F: Have you done a lot of changes to the space?

F.V.: You can't even imagine.  It is completely different. We have our private areas along with our dining room.  Completely crazy! It is the biggest restaurant in Miami with over 14,000 square feet. We have a 200 seat patio outside and there is seating for 400 guests inside. The location is great. Anybody who comes to the beach from Miami will drive by there. You know how they say "Every road leads to Rome? Well, every street leads to Siena.

T.F.: What hours are you going to be open?

F.V.: We are only going to serve dinner when we open in November, and then right after the holidays, we are going to do brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

T.F.: On a different note, I heard you were coming out with a new book soon. Tell us about it.

F.V.: Yes, on October 21st. It's Fabio's American Home Kitchen. And you know why I decided to do it? Because it was time for me. I am Italian and you can't take that away, but I have been living, dreaming and cooking in this country for the past decade, so American food is something I know very well now. And while I still keep my own little twist, like when I make Chicken Pot Pie and put fresh basil on top, for me it's all about simplicity. In this new book, I share all the loved and favorite American dishes, but with my own little tweak. The dishes are very simple to make. Dishes like Shrimp & Grits and Pot Pie are simple to execute. I don't like complicated recipes so this book is going to make it very easy for people to fall back in love with traditional American food. My recipes have short descriptions, to the point and are easy to read. You can't take two pages to write a recipe. It doesn't work that way.

T.F.: What about T.V.? Any plans coming up?

F.V.:  I have a show on the Food Network coming up, a few episodes of Cut Throat Kitchen in October I will be competing in. I also have a couple of other projects in the works that are not released yet, But you know, while T.V. is good, and I'll do it, it is not my passion. Last year alone I did over one hundred television appearances, so I'm on the television all the time.  But I am a restaurateur. If I have to take time away from the restaurant to be on T.V., things become a little different. I don't want to be a celebrity chef. I want to be a restaurant chef. I am a chef, not a celebrity.

T.F.: What do you want our readers to walk away with after they visit Siena Tavern?

F.V.: We want to be the kind of restaurant people will tell everyone about. The service and the quality of food are the most important things for us at Siena Tavern. If you give us $50 to have dinner with us, it has to be the best $50 you ever spent in your life. You are going to finish the meal and be like, "Oh my God, oh…I have to come back!" We are not big on advertisement and we are not big on promotion. We just make people happy. You hear sometimes that some restaurants become very popular and have a lot of business, and it almost gets to the point that they feel you owe them instead of the other way around. We do not operate like that. We are very fortunate and grateful for our customers and always treat them that way. Once a restaurant feels they have arrived and everybody owes them something, that's when they start to decline. Not us. We will always make Siena Tavern a place everyone will call home.

Siena Tavern is located at 404 Washington Avenue. For more information, visit their website at http://sienatavern.com/miami.

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