Most people recognize renowned chef Fabio Viviani from his television appearances on hit shows like Bravo TV’s Top Chef. His good looks, charm and sense of humor led to Viviani being voted “Fan Favorite” during his season of competition.
But Fabio is much more than a TV personality. Born in Italy and living in the U.S. for the past seven years, he is an award-winning restaurant owner, cookbook author, headliner at global food shows, TV guest chef, product endorser, restaurant consultant, motivational speaker and much more.
Fabio is also an active social media personality with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube. His award-winning internet cooking show, Chow Ciao!, is the number one lifestyle and food show on the ‘net.
Be sure to check out Viviani’s latest cookbook, “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen,” due to hit store shelves on April 23. The book contains secret family recipes and tales of Fabio’s family and childhood. Visit www.FabioViviani.com to preorder today.
Q. How do you define your job? Are you considered a Celebrity Chef? You own restaurants, you’re an author, an entrepreneur – you have so many things going on at once.
A. The reality of it is, I’m a restaurateur, and after that, I’m a chef. After that, I’m a person who happened to be on TV and has taken advantage of it. That’s what TV is for, right?
A. That’s what everybody wants. Everybody is like, “We’re doing this for the challenge.” That’s a bunch of baloney. You want to do this because you want to expose your brand and then it will be easier to get wherever you want to go.
The problem that many people are going to have is that they have a lot of goals and a lot of passion, but they don’t have a plan. And, as everybody knows, a goal without a plan is just a wish.
Q. That’s a good point.
A. What I had was a great plan. Yes, I’m passionate – I wouldn’t work 130 hours a week if I wasn’t passionate about it. But I had a plan. I knew I wanted to be in the industry. I looked at who’s out there and I looked at who the best are – not who I wanted to look like – I just looked at who the best are. I went and I studied them. I understood what they were doing and how they were doing it, and then I copied them pretty much. It’s not copying, because at the end of the day, it’s you doing it. You’re putting your charm in it and you’re putting in your passion. But the steps have to be similar if you want to succeed and have a role model. Make sense?
Q. Yes, absolutely.
A. You’re not going to invent anything – let’s put it that way. There are going to be very few people out there that can still claim, “I invented this.” So, we’re not going to be pioneers. We’re going to be settlers. The pioneers got arrows in their back (laughs). The settlers settled.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to be careful which ones your role models are. You’ve got to be careful about the fact that there is a lot of competition out there and it is not going to be easy. But, again, if you’re passionate about it, you don’t care about anything else.
I work a 130-hour week. I work an average of 18-19 hours a day. Most people do 40 hours a week and they’re like, “Oh, I had such a bad week, I’m so tired.” And you worked 6-8 hours a day? I mean, with all due respect, that’s not what I do.
Q. People know you best for competing on season five of Top Chef. How did that come about?
A. I turned the show down three times. I turned down season two, season three and season four, because I didn’t speak English when they proposed it to me. I really didn’t want to do television. I wanted to be a restaurateur. I came to the United States to have restaurants, not to be a celebrity – I hate the word celebrity. I’m Italian – whenever I used to see ‘celebrity,’ they are people that make a movie or two every year, they work for a month, they make a sh*tload of money – don’t got me wrong, tons of talent, but it’s not quite the commitment of an everyday work where you have to get up and make something happen for the organization.
I’m a hard working person. People sometimes say, “Fabio, you’re very successful.” Okay, let’s define success. For a normal person, being successful is how much money you want to make or what car you’re driving. I had 10 restaurants in Italy. I had great cars. I had a lot of money. But I wasn’t happy. To me, being successful is being really happy with the lifestyle I have. It doesn’t matter how much money I make. It doesn’t matter if my cars go fast or not. To me, success is happiness. With that said, I have to do what makes me happy, and what makes me happy is to work really hard. We have almost 500 employees, so we feed a lot of mouths. That’s what I think this is really all about. It’s about doing stuff that makes you happy and having people that enjoy that with you along the way.
Q. Would you agree that all of your success starts with the fact that you are a great chef?
A. You’re right. If the food sucked, I wouldn’t be here. I agree.
Q. What traits do you think make a good chef? Is it more about the cooking technique, your creativity? What talents are involved in being a top chef?
A. A great chef is not measured by the quality of the dish he produces. Yes, you have to make great dishes, don’t get me wrong. If the food sucks, you’re not going anywhere. But a great chef is measured by the passion, the work ethic, the fact that it doesn’t matter what day of the year it is – it could be Christmas or your mother’s birthday – you’re there working your butt off. A 40-hour-a-week chef will never be successful. “’I’m a chef, I have Sunday and Monday off.” Oh, that’s great, good for you.
You’ve got to really understand that and you’ve got to work your face off. There are a lot of people that hire me to do a career-based speech or they pay me to go motivate people. I cannot motivate people. I can train you for the job, but if you don’t have the motivation in yourself – if you are a motivated person, you don’t need motivation. If you need motivation, you’re screwed.
Whenever I go to schools or places telling me, “Fabio, we would love you to come here and give input to our kids,” that’s great. But I am probably going to tell them things that I am not sure they want to hear. The fact that sometimes people work an 80-hour or 100-hour week does not mean that success is guaranteed. Some will have to work harder, but you have to work smarter. On top of that, if you work smart and hard – which I believe I’m doing – that’s a game changer.
Q. Exactly. There are no shortcuts. It really comes down to hard work.
A. It comes down to them. It comes down to, “Can you get your *ss out of bed in the morning and can you work a 120-hour week?” And people are going to be like, “Well, we don’t need to work 120 hours a week. I work 70 hours a week and that’s a long time.” Yes, it’s a lot of hours, but I work 70 hours between Monday and Thursday. At the end of the day, if you want an average job – there’s no offense in it, it’s just the reality – if you want to be in an average category, where you have average success and an average salary, that’s great, that’s fantastic. But that does not make me happy. That does not motivate me. What you need to do is to find what makes you happy. If you think that you are the kind of person that wants to work 40 hours a week, 50 hours a week, 60 hours a week, and have a great career and a great legacy, you might want to reconsider setting the bar a little lower, because you’re going to be disappointed.
Q. I watched you on QVC the other morning on In the Kitchen with David, where you were promoting your new cookbook. What is that experience like and what happens to all that food you cook for the presentation?
A. Well, the food is for the camera. The ones that we eat are edible; the other ones that we don’t eat are not necessarily edible.
It’s nice. It’s a different platform. QVC is a company, it’s a business. QVC is the biggest retail store on the planet as far as television. They make $6 billion a year. So, it’s a humbling experience.
Q. You sold 10,000 cookbooks in just a few minutes.
A. We actually sold almost 19,000 and we’ve got another 7,500 on backorder.
Q. Congratulations on your sales and on the new cookbook – it looks fabulous.
A. Did you get the book?
Q. I ordered it.
A. Oh, great! I love it! There are a bunch of stories of me as a child. My mom said, “If I cannot release those childhood stories, you cannot release my recipes.” I said, “Mom, I love you, but that’s messed up – you know that, right?” (laughs).
I’m very happy. I’m very blessed. I’m very fortunate in America. Yes, I do work 140 hours a week – yes, I do. But, again, there are wonderful people in this country and they gave me a lot of opportunities that I made for myself in Italy, but because of the nation and because of the way that Italy operates, I couldn’t keep. I’m very, very fortunate.
Q. I read somewhere that you were a personal chef for William Shatner. Is that true?
A. William Shatner comes to my restaurant all the time. He has a ranch in Woodford, so he likes to go riding horses and we did ride horses together all the time. What happened is that he is also a great food connoisseur. He loves food, he likes to eat, and I have a restaurant very close where he likes to hang out, so that was kind of a natural thing. Now, would I describe it as a personal chef? I did a lot of private chef work for him, but I was not cooking at his house every day, if that’s what America means by it. We did a lot of charities together. We spent Thanksgiving together. But I’m not cooking his breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. I’ve never done that.
Q. I think you’ve already given a lot of great advice, but is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. Yes. This is the biggest motivational lesson that I personally ever got, and it applies perfectly in the United States. The United States is the perfect country for the application of this belief. So, this is how it sounds: America is not about how good you had it. It’s not about the color of your skin. It’s not about where you come from. It’s not about the degrees of education that you have. It’s not about if your friends are a bunch of drug addicts and if your mom and dad are divorced. It’s not about if you had a good family. Yes, certain things can help you achieve your goals faster, but the reality is that America is not about how good you had it. America is about how bad you want it. And if you want it really, really bad, you can do anything.