This week at Top Chef Kitchen by Bravo in New York City, Top Chef alums Antonia Lofaso and Fabio Viviani are the featured chefs at the one-of-a-kind, four-course dining experience from Bravo’s Emmy®- and James Beard Award-winning television series, Top Chef. Viviani has two restaurants in Los Angeles, is opening a new restaurant in Chicago, and is scouting a location for another in Miami. When he’s not in one of his restaurants, he is filming his show Chow Ciao! on Yahoo! Lofaso owns Black Market in Studio City, California, and is opening a second as-yet-unnamed restaurant in March 2013 (although Viviani claims they do know the name and it is one he suggested). We caught up with them pre-service in Top Chef Kitchen, as Chef Lofaso was making ravioli for the evening’s dinner.
Were you intimidated to cook for New York foodies?
FV: I’ve done a lot of private parties in New York, but I never cooked for a restaurant. I got kicked off Top Chef twice in New York, both seasons, so New York doesn’t faze me anymore.
Fabio, what was it like working with Antonia?
FV: We were on a season of Top Chef together, so I know she can be very difficult at times.
AL: That’s when I turn my head [away from him].
FV: I love her to pieces.
Were you excited to work with someone you were a little familiar with?
AL: With Fabio? For this? Yes! So many times when we do these events, it can feel like we’re being more competitive *after* the actual competition versus during. After [Top Chef], it’s more like, ‘Oh my god! What is everyone doing? Is my food better?’ Fabio is just so easy. Not easy in a sleeps-with-a-lot-of-women sort of a way.
AL: I called you easy. [Pause] Actually, he may be easy in both senses of the word.
FV: I’m easy — easy to please.
AL: Yes, that’s for sure. He’s just sweet, and he’s all about good food, There’s no ‘I’m so much better than you’ air.
FV: It’s not about bragging rights. It’s about having fun! And making good food today! Even though my food is better.
You have created separate Top Chef Kitchen menus, but diners can mix and match. Was there a discussion ahead of time about how they would meld?
AL: Fabio made a menu first and and it was predominantly Italian — shocking!
FV: I didn’t make a menu first; I answered first.
AL: Yes, he answered first. And it was so shocking that it was Italian. But, I just went along with it. I love Italian. And, really, was Fabio going to do Asian dumplings?
[Viviani nods in agreement]
Was there something Fabio said he was making that you had planned on serving?
AL:I had wanted to do short ribs, but then he’d already claimed them. So, I did veal cheeks. I wanted to do a braised meat.
Is anyone doing scallops?
What is like coming in to this space and creating an instant restaurant?
AF: We’re so used to doing this.
Did your time on the show help you with that?
AL: The time on the show helps you with everything in your life.
FV: And, I also own a few restaurants for real, so that helps. Everybody thinks that you go on Top Chef and you’re ready for everything. It’s not true. If you run your own restaurant, then you’re ready for everything.
What’s it like sharing the kitchen?
FV: I’m not sharing. I’m not sharing anything.
AL: I think my sous chef is probably is a little more annoyed about sharing the kitchen.
You brought your own sous chefs?
FV: I brought one wing man in my case, and Antonia brought one as well.
AL: They’re the people who work closely with us and who know what we do, so it makes for easier communication.
FV: I’d be lost without that guy! He does everything that I get credit for.
Are there are any ingredients you’re excited to cook with now that we’re deep into fall in New York?
AL: We’re both from California, so we use celery root in November when it’s 80 degrees. Being in New York, it’s definitely different. It feels more seasonal and more exciting because the ingredients available at the time of year match the weather. In California, the only time the weather and the ingredients truly mirror each other is summer.
Have you been or will you be able to dine at any New York restaurants while you’re in town?
If you had to pick a Top Chef contestant from a past season to be your sous chef, who would it be?
FV: Because then, at least once, she’s gonna listen to me.
AL: I can tell you who I wouldn’t pick: I wouldn’t pick Mike Isabella. Angelo Sosa would be my sous chef. The last episode [we filmed] with Richard Blais, we were both line cooks, and I feel like I haven’t been a line cook in a long time. We bonded.
FV: She likes avocado pants.
Do you have any advice to future Top Chef competitors?
FV: It’s interesting competing on Top Chef. It’s a blessing. You get good exposure *if* you look good. If you look bad, you look bad and you’re done. So, be careful with the choice you make. If you’re going to go on there and look good as a person and for your cooking skills, you’re good. But if you look like a d@#che, guess what? It’s national television.
AL: You’d better know what you’re doing. Keep a calm head and a good attitude, because in cooking that’s what going to make or break you.