Top Chef Season Five Fan Favorite (he joked “that meant I didn’t win”) Fabio Viviani stopped in Santa Barbara last week to help raise money for CALM. That he did, at a $100 ticket price plus auctioning himself off – for cooking not canoodling, ladies – for two private dinners for a cool $7,000 grand total. And let’s put it this way, his continental charm wasn’t edited in by the Bravo TV folks – he’s sort of Chico Marx in a much prettier package and a chef’s coat.

To be honest, the actual cooking demos weren’t much, as he had merely a burner he almost dumped from the table once, but he did insist that anyone can cook, so the simplified dishes – Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and pesto dressing, amatriciana, and veal salad – made a sort of sense for his message, too. (We got to eat deftly prepared versions put together by Cynthia Miranda of Elements Catering.) He brought along the equally Italian and dashing Jacapo Falleni, one of his compadres from his Moorpark restaurant Cafe Firenze, to make matching cocktails that were actually more involved than Fabio’s dishes, even if Jacapo had to steal Fabio’s balsamic glaze to pull of his balsamic martini. After Jacapo’s first demo, Fabio quipped, “Hey, I saw that exact same thing on Sandra Lee!” and that became his running joke for his co-worker, as he later, talking about the ease of his recipes, riffed, “Forget 30 minute meals, we’re going to outdate Rachel Ray. It’s 15 minutes meals with Fabio, 15 minutes drinks with Sandra Lee!”

And yes, he said “minutes.” His battles with English, which he’s spoken for a mere three-and-a-half-years, only add to his charm, as when he related he tried to order pine nuts but instead got a “big bag of what the monkeys eat.” That doesn’t mean he’s not savvy, though. He wanted to let us see his carefully arranged Caprese but knew if he tilted the plate for too long, the pesto’s olive oil would turn into a runny disaster: “Then you’re going to put on Facebook that my salad looked a mess.”

In general, though, he exuded charm and made good food seem a simple, comforting, comfortable thing. While he joked, “This is tactics: if you can’t convince them, confuse them,” little he did puzzled. Instead, it seemed perfect common sense, as when he said, “People ask, ‘How do I know when my wine is reduced?’ And I say, ‘When it’s no longer there.’ Cook is a simple procedure.”

Some other choice Fabio-isms:

On pesticides: “If I find a little snail in my lettuce at a restaurant, I’m happy. Today is a rare gift to find something alive in your salad.”

On salads: “I don’t think there’s any reason to eat vegetables if there’s meat around.”

On artichokes: “The very first 20 leaves of an artichoke not even a goat can eat one of those.”

On grinding one’s own pepper: “You get to go to the gun show [points at his biceps] after the pepper.”

On tossing a pan’s contents, not stirring: “I toss everything. I can’t wait to have the kids to toss them in the trolley.”

On avoiding calories: “They have light ranch dressing in the supermarket. C’mon, this is like a light hangover, like a light punch in the face.”


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