Just One Drink: Former Top Chef contestant discusses his new River North restaurant, Siena Tavern, and life after reality TV.
Fabio Viviani likes to say he didn't choose Chicago to open his latest restaurant concept -- Chicago chose him.
Either way, his decision to invest in River North Italian restaurant Siena Tavern, wasn't a quick one.
The veteran of multiple seasons of "Top Chef" decided to join forces with Lucas Stoioff and David Rekhson of the DineAmic hospitality group, responsible for late night hot spots Public House and Bull & Bear.
But before any deal was made, Viviani took his potential partners to his hometown of Florence, Italy, for the ultimate test.
"You've got to live, sweat, go to bed, get up, dress, eat, walk like Italian. Then when you know inside you what Italy is all about, then we go back to River North and make a business out of it," Viviani said.
The reality show made Viviani a househould name, and while he's appreciative of the platform the show has given him, he points out that he was already an experienced restaurateur before appearing on the show.
"This place is substance, it's not swag. Swag can take you so far, it's like 5 minutes of fame," Viviana says. "There's a lot of people who go on Top Chef and they're like, 'Oh my God, from tomorrow I can sign some autographs and be the man,' and I'm like, 'Dude, it's Top Chef, you didn't win an Oscar."
Viviani is aware that many outsiders with a big name have tried and failed to make it in Chicago's competitive culinary scene, but he believes his choice of partners -- and his personal makeup -- will lead to success.
"I'm a humble guy. I come from poverty, not money," Viviani says. "The part I like about Chicago is that people are willing to give you a chance. Even if you're not a big shot, people will still give you a chance."
(Video shot by Stephanie Jimenez and Onasis Odelmo)