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Florentine Flair

At the upcoming Siena Tavern in South Beach, chef Fabio Viviani fine-tunes his rustic Italian approach to suit our shores.

Chef Fabio Viviani

Fabio Viviani, the Florentine-born cook of Top Chef fame who has a hand in no less than seven (soon eight) restaurants, is not one to wax poetic about his induction into the culinary world.

“I don’t have the story that most chefs have—of growing up with bounties on my table,” he says. “I went to work in a restaurant when I was 11 because I needed the money to help my family.” If working in a no-frills farm-to-table spot was a forced apprenticeship, the education gained was invaluable. Viviani learned early on to have confidence in the kitchen: “You have to start to enjoy the philosophy of ‘less is more,’” he says. “We made everything ourselves—from fresh pasta to artisanal bread, salad from our gardens, aged meat from our cellars. Old-school Italian restaurants don’t have refrigeration, so that means making things from scratch every single day.”

When Viviani describes the three-day process of preparing ribollita, the traditional Tuscan soup, it is with a hard-won authenticity that belies his celebrity status. Despite so much TV work—“I’m not shy on camera,” he says—Viviani resists hanging the term “celebrity chef” around his neck. If he has to be a brand, he would much rather be branded a restaurateur.

Necessity turned to passion when he turned 18 and left home for culinary school. “Take that with a grain of salt,” he says, “I was a terrible student.” But by then Viviani had multiple years of experience, and the wherewithal to open his first restaurant. Cut to less than two decades later, and the hyper expressive chef, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Chicago (now Miami as well), is on the cusp of opening Siena Tavern in South Beach, in the space that once housed China Grill. But don’t expect his 33139 debut in September to be a mere outpost of the Chicago Siena Tavern. Viviani says the decor, the ambience and the menu will all be inspired by the Miami scene. “Picture this one,” he says, with contagious enthusiasm, “a rustic yet re ned trattoria, very hipster yet mainstream. We don’t like things that go out of style.”

Sounds like Miami is in for a treat in more ways than one.

Viviani's Hots
Off-the-grid beach resorts, Fiesole, the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, The Little Nell in Aspen, the Anchorman movies, Roberto Cavalli jeans

Viviani's Nots
Self-absorption, cilantro, peanut butter