29 September 2011


SARONNO, Italy - If you are a fan of Top Chef, I don’t have to tell you who’s photos on the blog this week – of course – it is Fabio Viviani. There have been quite a few Italian-Americans on the program since it started a few years ago, but Viviani is the only “from Italy” Italian to appear on the show. And therein lies the story. 
Fabio Viviani
While Fabiani did a pretty good job of holding his own in Season 5, there were a couple of episodes where he was completely clueless – the breakfast challenge and the episode where he had to make a hamburger for Jimmy Fallon. 

For those of you who have traveled in Italy, I’m sure you understand why Fabiani fumbled on these two challenges. First of all there is no breakfast as we know it in Italy. I remember traveling from Paris to Venice on the Orient Express with my kids and arriving in Venice early in the morning. They wanted food – I wanted food – maybe a couple of eggs, some cereal, pancakes, some sort of substance, but time after time we were disappointed.  So when I saw “toast” on a café menu, I jumped on it. What we got were flat as a pancake grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. 

 Grilled Ham and Cheese Breakfast
I’ve since learned that breakfast in Italy means a croissant and a cappuccino. One of each. Even when faced with other choices, the default menu is always the same. One time I was in Bologna covering a shoe fair with my favorite photographer. We had driven down from Milan that morning and by the time we got there, Davide was starving. 

As usual, our first stop was the Press Office to pick up a Press kit. As is pretty normal at these events, they had set up a bar and put out a good selection of things to eat. (Just as an aside, a bar in Italy is not a “saloon” but a place where you can have a cup of coffee or a soft drink or even a hard drink if that’s what you want. They also sell sandwiches and snacks and sometimes even hot food.) 

 Chef Fabio
But back to my story. I remember saying to Davide that there were little salami sandwiches and a nice selection of cheeses and breads, but he just shook his head and said he was really hungry and wanted a sweet, flaky, airy, croissant. So much for Italian breakfast.

So when it came to the Top Chef breakfast challenge, Fabio Fabiani made some kind of a smoothie, instead of the steak and eggs and French toast the other contestants whipped up – and ended up on the bottom.

Shopping at Whole Foods with Richard Blais
It was the same with the midnight snack for the kids at the Museum of Natural History. Once again Chef Fabio was clueless and told the judges that in Italy, a midnight snack is a bowl of pasta or a couple of slices of pizza. How true, but it put Fabio on the bottom again.

But perhaps the biggest challenge was when he had to make a hamburger for Jimmy Fallon’s birthday. Fabio thought he was going to knock this one out of the park as he mixed beef and pork and I don’t remember what else into a lump of cooked meat that looked more like a mini-meat loaf than an American hamburger. 

I get it. I know all about Italian hamburgers, starting with the number one premise of “don’t ever order one.”  Instead of a light, fluffy burger that oozes juice when you bite into it, what you get is a pressed piece of meat that has been cooked to within an inch of its life. They are a little like McDonald burgers, but even more compact.
 Fabiani Strikes Again
There used to be a bar in Saronno that called itself New York Café, and there were quite a few American-like choices on their menu. When it first opened, I was all excited, a place to get a real New York hamburger right here in downtown Saronno? Could it be true?

Turned out it wasn’t – true that is – and they have since closed. Somehow American food just does not translate into Italian. Nor does Chinese, or any other kind of food. It’s just the way it is. Fortunately Italian food in Italy is delicious –  it’s the water or something, and so they don’t  need to cook anything else.

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