These days, it’s getting harder and harder to avoid the culinary stylings of Fabio Viviani. His branded restaurants include Italian places, upmarket fried chicken joints and New American alehouses. He’s got restaurants in airports and restaurants in casinos. He’s got branded food in supermarkets. He’s got cookbooks. And he’s got a presence on TV, where he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Rachael Ray Show and seasons 5 and 8 of Bravo’s Top Chef, to name just a few.
But the Italian, who started out running nightclubs and restaurants in his native Florence before coming to the US while still in his 20s, still sees himself as a chef first. When he steps into one of his kitchens – such as, for example, the one at Riviera by Fabio Viviani in Fort Lauderdale Beach’s new Hotel Maren – he wants to see details like the homemade pasta.
“Making pasta from scratch is definitely one of my signature moves,” Viviani says. “It reminds me of growing up in Italy and it serves the purpose of bringing to the table the idea of very high-quality food served and produced with passion, knowledge and experience.”
The restaurant is Viviani’s latest collaboration with Curio Collection by Hilton, an upmarket hotel brand that’s part of the Hilton portfolio. The new Hotel Maren is a Curio hotel. Viviani sees his new place as an upscale destination – to a point.
“It is a Mediterranean coastal restaurant – from-scratch food – and the idea is to serve food that is well-received for a summer crowd on the beach … and trying to outsource the majority of our ingredients within 180 miles from the location. Basically it’s a neighborhood, local restaurant placed in a high-end setting within a beautiful hotel.
“From the fresh pasta made from scratch to the tuna tartare to the steaks, the ingredients are high quality. There is a special eye to local seafood that we literally get fresh from the boats like the seabass, the branzino, the octopus and all that.”
Viviani trained as a chef although these days, with a restaurant empire that spans across the US, he’s not exactly the guy who will be preparing the octopus and coming out to meet diners in Fort Lauderdale most nights. His current career is something of a juggling act – but one where he always tries to keep food at the forefront.
“It’s very simple,” he says. “If it’s not good for my business as a whole, I don’t do it. Me gaining fame and notoriety will never get in the way of doing business. I’ve said no to multiple projects and I’ve said no to many deals because advantages for me didn’t bring any benefit to the restaurants. I’m in the restaurant business, not the television business.”
As someone in the restaurant business, he sometimes has to be tough when it comes to where he wants to go. He tries not to make decisions based on emotion. That said, Fort Lauderdale ticked all the boxes.
“For us opening a restaurant in a new city is always a combination of economics, the crowd that we’re serving, the seasonability of the business … and also how much money it’s going to take for us to open the restaurant,” he says. “Just opening a restaurant because we like a city is a terrible business model. We have to balance many factors and there are multiple ones that decide whether we are going to go into business in a certain city or not. That’s why we are a hospitality management firm and not just a simple chef who is trying to open a bunch of restaurants.”
The Dish: Calabrian Chili Orecchiette
- 12 oz. Calabrian chili orecchiette
- 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (blistered)
- 0.5 oz. Calabrian chili, smashed (more if you like it spicy)
- 30 pc. small clams such as Manilla or littlenecks (washed and purged)
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 cup approx. white wine
- 7 oz. clam juice
- 2 oz. butter
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 20 leaves of fresh basil
- 20 leaves of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
- Olive oil
Have a pot of boiling salted water for pasta.
Roll tomatoes in a very hot sauté pan. Add a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, sauté garlic in oil, add clams and carefully add white wine. Cover with a lid. Cook 2 minutes, then remove lid. Add Calabrian chili, clam juice and half of the basil and parsley. Move around in pan, careful not to break clams. Add butter, blistered tomatoes, salt and pepper, then add pasta. Toss and taste for seasoning. Adjust if needed.
Place into warm bowl, top with remaining herbs and serve.