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'Top Chef': Fabio Viviani goes Italian and exits laughing

February 19, 2009 |  2:59 pm

Stefan_and_fabioWe're really going to miss that broken English.

But last night's eliminated "Top Chef" contestant, Fabio Viviani, is nothing but pumped for what's to come.

The SoCal chef who runs Moorpark, Calif.'s Cafe Firenze reveals what really happened at his final judges table, weighs in on Leah, explains the Mohawk and talks about the show's "real" behind-the-scenes competition.

How are you feeling today?
I am absolutely great. I had a good night last night. I laughed a lot -- maybe I was the only one laughing? There was a viewing party at [head judge Tom Colicchio's restaurant] CraftSteak. You know, I got kicked off, so that wasn't good, but I was happy. I’m very happy with how it ended. I’m a happy person.

Bring us back to that final judges table. Did it feel like Stefan was going to get the boot?
Like Emeril said, I made one of the best maque choux he ever had. Colicchio told me I had a lot of balls to make fresh pasta and bread from scratch. Yeah, they criticized Stefan's food more than mine, but what pulled him through was that he did two dishes from that region. I did one Italian-influenced, and one Creole. But it's fine. Tom told me that night that he was sorry and that I'd been a strong competitor. He did say they couldn't consider the bread I made because [the judges] didn't ask for it.

Why didn't you cook two straight Creole dishes when you saw everyone else doing that? I know the judges only asked for one, but...
[Italian] is what I do for a living. You can't hide where you’re coming from. I gave the other dish a Creole profile with the crawfish and Cajun seasoning, but Italian food is what I do for a living. And I stick with the rules. I did muffuletta, which is typical New Orleans, but it's also a bread [Italy had been doing] 300 years before them. I did way more than all the other [contestants]. But, you know, I’m not used to being upset.

So no hard feelings?
No, I’m very happy! I was in the top three a lot [Note: Fabio won three challenges.] and I had so much fun. From the morning show, to restaurant wars, to the last episode to the finale, I know what I’m doing. And you know, my restaurant is doing better than ever. It's doing 40% more business than it did in 2007. I feel great about it!

Do you think there was some conspiracy against both members of Team Europe getting through to the finals?
Team Europe came about because Stefan has over 20 [years'] kitchen experience; I have almost that much. Between the two of us, we probably had more than all the other chefs added up together. The other chefs, some of them have two or three years at most. That’s why he and I bonded together at the very beginning. So ... maybe?

Why do you think you bonded so quickly?
We’re European so we have the same sense of humor. Also, I don't think he's that cocky. Of course, he's very confident. I can understand why other people would be bothered by that, but it doesn't get on my nerves like it did everyone else. It motivates me.

Right. He's also not the only cocky one.
Amore, you have to understand that chefs are like rock stars. I’m like that too! The difference is that  I’m Italian. I’m personable because I'm Italian. If I was American, it’d be different. You'd think the same way about me. Look, when I left Italy to move here, I had to sell my three restaurants to do it. If I was not confident I couldn’t have done that. You have to be confident in this business.

Why’d you get a Mohawk?
I change my hair cut every other day. I’m very extravagant in certain things. I never have matching socks. Chefs are like rock stars. They have to do something to wow and create buzz. It’s not good hair to have in the U.S. but quite frankly I don’t care. I got my pink scarf, pink socks, pink shoes...

What was the living situation like? Were all the contestants good housemates?
Now that was the true competition. People drink and they get nutty they don’t behave too much. Me? I don’t need three beers to tell you what I think. The best and worst came out of people out of the kitchen. And, you know, when you share a bathroom with someone not as clean as you are, it’s not fun. It’s an experience for sure. I learned how to be very patient.

Who was the most difficult to live with?
Danny, I love him. He was one of the people I loved to hang out with. But I would prefer to live with a pig. He’s very messy. Leaves [his stuff] on the floor, he’d be very annoying for someone who is OCD about cleaning. I like to be clean, I work with food!

Who were you the saddest to see get eliminated?
I did love Jamie. She’s a great chef. I would’ve been sad about Stefan, but he didn't get cut! Leah was good to me. Eugene is a great guy and he's talented guy. The rest I didn’t bond with. You can’t bond with someone that doesn’t think or act like you do. Nothing to share with someone with just a little kitchen experience.

So did Leah get a fair shake?
It’s a show and I get it. They can copy and paste things here and there, but they can’t put words in your mouth. Leah is a very talented chef but when you get alcohol in people, especially men and women together, they can get naughty. Hosea got Leah and I got Stefan. So ... no kisses between us!

What are you up to now?
All kind of things. I'm going be everywhere. For sure a little more TV. We have something in the making. There are lots of food companies who want to license my image. And my book, "The Café Firenze Cookbook," comes out on April 15th. You can write that I'm not going away at all. I will come back bigger!

-- Denise Martin

Related:
'Top Chef': Too close for comfort, Stefan edges past Fabio

Photo: Stefan Richter, left and Fabio Viviani. Credit: NBC Universal

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