Yes, we all fell in love with Fabio Viviani during last season's Top Chef season, where he won "Fan Favorite". His success and visibility opened many new doors for endorsements, travel and even more opportunities to share his recipes and love of great food from his homeland, Italia.
Last spring, we visited Cafe Firenze, he and his partners' first restaurant in Moorpark, California. Now Fabio, and his partners will be opening the new Osteria Firenze in North Hollywood, (an even closer drive for us, YEAH!). It opens on October 24. We will not be able to be there for the opening night party, but plan a get-together with friends as soon as possible (next month for sure!). If the food is as good as Cafe Firenze was, it is sure to be an evening to remember. I need to knock off a few pounds NOW to get ready for a night of fabulous multi-course dining. I will arrive with a fresh batch of taralli for the Executive Chef!
Now, let's talk about this cookbook from the Tuscan Sons: Cafe Firenze Cookbook Mangia & Bevi by Fabio Viviani and Jacapo Falleni. I can't put it down! I have NEVER read a cookbook cover to cover, including acknowledgements and info about the photographer, but I have DEVOURED every page of this one. The photos and design by Antonio Busiello are wonderful, both photography of the food and cocktails, as well as some gorgeous photos of Italy. The recipes are not all for the beginner cook, but if you have a knowledge of Italian food (or grew up with an Italian mother or nonna), you will be delighted! Most of the recipes involve typical ingredients of Italian cooking: olive oil, rosemary, sage, thyme, fresh fish, vegetables, meat, polenta, tomatoes, etc.. A few of the ingredients are not what you may normally have in your fridge or pantry (duck fat, veal demi glace, calamari with tentacles, etc.) but everything I have tried is well worth a little searching or speaking with your butcher, or fish guy about. (Fabio points out we should all have a butcher we trust. I am friends with my guy at Bristol Farms, and he even sharpens my knives when I visit!) There is a chapter on Antipasti, Pasta, Pesce, Carne, and Dolci. I have tried several recipes, and they will turn out perfectly if you do just what Fabio says. Tomorrow's blog will give you an example (after all tonight IS Top Chef Night, so we must have a fabulous dinner!).
This cookbook has as many amazing cocktails as it does food recipes. Fabio gets all of the media attention, fans, friends on Facebook, and groupies following him around the country, but it is more the locals who know his side-kick, Jacapo Falleni, the very talented, award-winning mixologist who got Fabio here from Italy in the first place! Jacapo, (please pronounce his name correctly: Yah-coe-poe), is the General Manager, and creator of over 100 "sexy martinis". It was a pleasure to learn about his background and family. He also grew up in Florence, and met Fabio in Culinary school. His drink recipes will astound you, or send you straight to your liquor cabinet and produce stand to try to create some of his artful concoctions! Oh just wait until you see them. It will take several visits to sample my list of drinks to try before settling in with wine for the evening. When we visited Cafe Firenze, I heard Jacapo say to a group of giggly twenty-something young women, "No, I am not Fabio. I am Jacapo!" (As opposed to the giggly 40 and 50 somethings at OUR table.) I look forward to speaking to Jacapo on our next visit.
Ok, the food, drinks and photos are reasons enough to buy this book, but let me get to what I truly LOVE about it! Fabio says he is not a writer. We have seen and heard glimpses of his humor, that mischievous look in his eye, and we know he is quite a character. We also know he can cook his butt off. Fabio's passion is evident. His staff will tell you of his hard work, dedication, and endless hours at the restaurant. He discusses using only fresh products of the highest quality. He writes about his childhood influences of grandparents and his Italian traditions in Tuscany, from hunting for mushrooms with his grandfather, getting up at 3:00 a.m. to get the freshest fish, and nurturing the tomatoes in a garden behind the house. He writes about his American "chicken phobia", his love for all kinds of meat and game, and how to please cook pasta "Al dente" ("It is for you, not for me...").
Fabio writes exactly the way he speaks. Though he only has three years of speaking English under his belt, you can hear his voice in every paragraph he writes. Here are a coupe of my favorite examples:
(Describing Veal Demi glace) "You can find this in any food store. It is like a gravy mix but much better and tastier. You will fall in love with this and probably you will use this instead of your nasty gravy for your turkey the next Thanksgiving."
Fabio, I DO love veal demi glace, and I remember discovering it a few years ago at Williams-Sonoma, and paying $19.00 for a 10 oz. jar! That jar is now $29.00! Thank God, I can find it at Bristol Farms, or Jensen's, our other upscale grocery store.
(On Plating a dish) "For the plating either see the picture or be little creative, come on...is not that hard!"
(On Cherry Heirloom Tomatoes) "A true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations, without b***s*** like pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or other stuff that doesn't belong to the diet of anybody."
Most of us remember at least 5 or 6 of Fabio's more famous quotes from Top Chef: “This is Top Chef, NOT Top Scallop!”
I love that the editor, Annette Ward, didn't seem to change a thing from authentic "Fabio-speak!" It is perfect exactly the way it is. Fabio is honest, expresses himself well, and says what he thinks. I would be willing to argue with you, Fabio, about "not being a writer". It is not your chosen profession, but you DO make people want to read MORE of what you have to say. Isn't that what a writer does? When I tease about your charming way of speaking and writing with your wonderful Italian accent, it is with affection, respect, and admiration!
Thank you, Fabio and Jacopo, for a wonderful, entertaining, useful, and beautiful cookbook. Mi ringrazio di cuore per la scrittura di questo libro! I will be studying Italian language in Bologna next spring. I'm sure when I get home, I will barely be able to read a recipe in Italian, let alone WRITE one!
Now, take a break from reading blogs and use one of these links to order your own copy. Get a couple extras as they will make wonderful gifts. The holidays are coming! I'm hoping to have mine autographed SOON. Until then, it is in my "most used" area, in good company between Gina's Dolce Italiano and The Splendid Table!