Were there any names that were kicked around before deciding on Siena Tavern?
Any official, like shut-out names before Siena Tavern? No. The story behind the name is [my business partners] David [Rekhson], Luke [Stoioff] and I found ourselves drinking wine in this tavern in Siena [in Tuscany, Italy]. The name of the restaurant was La Taverna. My grandpa was there and he was out of control, he had a lot to drink to the point where we had to sit in the tavern for half of the day before we could drive back. We kept talking about the tavern in Siena and how wonderful it was, “I loved the tavern in Siena,” and, “La Taverna was great,” or, “We had a great meal in Siena at Taverna.” Siena, Taverna, Siena Tavern!
You must get pitched by restaurateurs all of the time. What made the guys at Dine|amic Group the right fit?
David and Lucas are the most honest, hardworking, straight-forward people I’ve ever met. This is the 15th or 16th restaurant I’ve opened since I’ve been in the business and for the first time in my life—[Partner Lucas Stoioff walks in]—You just photobombed my interview!
Lucas Stoioff: You’re mic’d? We can’t interrupt? What’s the big deal, we do it all of the time.
Fabio: To finish the sentence since now he walked in the room, for the first time in about 25 years as a person working in the restaurant business I am actually comfortable and I sleep at ease knowing I have this kind of business partner.
Lucas: Awe, thank you! I wish I wasn’t here now.
Do you two ever get sick of each other?
Fabio: Are you kidding me? I miss him everyday. When I don’t see him I have to text him, “I miss you!”
Lucas: We just went on a cruise together! Me, him and our girlfriends.
Fabio: We were shirtless, riding scooters in Cozumel and I got the worst sunburn of my life. F-ck!
Lucas: Okay, I’ll tell you one thing about him that bugs me. He’s always able to locate better Chuck Taylors than I do. And he’s got more shoes.
Fabio: I’ve got more shoes, yeah, but I also get cooler looking shoes than you do.
What was your childhood like growing up in Italy?
My childhood was not good. I grew up on welfare and food stamps. My mom was really ill and I was not doing too hot myself. We didn’t have money so all we were eating was eggs and flour and I had a lot of immune system deficiencies because of the bad diet. But then again, you know what? It didn’t kill me. It made me stronger, so cheers to that!
Do you have any standout memories from being in the kitchen as a kid?
My mom was working three jobs so she never was home to cook. My dad was working three jobs, my grandfather was working three jobs and my grandmother was working a job all day so I was always home alone with my great grandmother Maria who was in a wheelchair. The only memory I have of cooking is me standing in between her legs on the wheelchair when I was five years old holding her head like it was a motorcycle as she was wheeling herself around the house. That’s how I started to cook because we couldn’t afford a babysitter and it’s not that there are not babysitters in Italy but it was because nobody can afford to pay somebody to look over their child.
If it was your last meal, what would be the perfect line-up of dishes from “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen”?
Meatballs. Fresh pasta. Roasted chicken. Tiramisu.
Is there one particular Chicago chef who you really admire?
There are so many. If I had to pick my favorite Chicago chef it would be like asking the wife that I don’t have yet to pick our favorite child, which we don’t have! We all know that everybody has a favorite child among two or three but you can’t say it because it’s not nice. As a matter of fact, I am an only child and still I was not my mom’s favorite! With that said, I have a lot of people that I respect and admire. Stephanie Izard, Tony Mantuano, Giuseppe Tentori. There’s too many to name all of them and they’re too good to pick one.
Of all the people you’ve met on your journey, who has left the biggest impression?
Emeril Lagasse. This guy’s an icon, he’s a chef with stainless steel balls meaning he can cook some serious food and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s from the South so he knows how to bring on the flavor and he has an empire in the restaurant business and outside of it all he’s still having fun. That’s the spirit! I was very impressed by him.
Are you a morning or night person?
Best vacation you’ve ever been on?
Favorite materialistic possession?
I drive a very nice sports car. I have about a hundred pairs of Converse All-Stars and a very small collection of very good looking watches.
What is your idea of fun?
Relaxing. A good time for me is to spend some time at home. Last year I had 310,000 flight miles within 327 days. I bought a house 2.5 years ago and I haven’t yet spent 70 days in my house since I bought it. My couch is still half wrapped in plastic! Not because I commit murder but because there is no reason to unwrap it, I never see it!
Where is your house?
In Moorpark, California.
Do you ever want to slow down?
I’ll slow down once everybody is able to handle the business and it has generated enough income for everybody to be able to pay their bills in order for me to justify not going to work. I have a few years to go, a few years to go.
If you had to choose between love or success, what would you choose?
Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten… Uh, a rattlesnake!
Last time you got drunk?
Two nights ago. I was in New York and I had a very, very late night dinner and I got intoxicated. They must have hidden something in my wine. Something was hidden in my wine!
One thing you can’t live without?
If you were granted three wishes, what would you use them on?
I want to live forever—so far, so good! I want to make everybody that is sick or not doing well on the planet healthy and happy. And I would like to bring back my grandma because she died before I could take some recipes out of her and I love her.
In your opinion, is kissing on a first date a do or a don’t?
I think that you should kiss anytime an opportunity presents itself even if it’s on the first date. If you have an opportunity for a good kiss, like a good French kiss where you sit there for 10 minutes, a good slow…
10 minutes?! That’s a long kiss.
That’s a long kiss? Ten minutes is not even long, that’s only if you’re about to walk away! Here’s the deal, whenever you have the chance to sit down and have a very long French kiss, a make-out session with bites and things, then go for it! Who cares? It doesn’t matter if I’ve never met you or we’ve been dating for 10 years!
Do you make the first move?
As a gentleman before a man, I do make the first move but it has to be a home run. I don’t go for it if it’s a maybe.
What are the signs of a home run date?
I’m Italian, we invented the signs! Come on, you know. If you don’t know, you shouldn’t be there.
Are kids in your future?
Of course. At least two.
What qualities drew you to your girlfriend?
She can handle somebody like me. It’s amazing, God bless her! She can handle the stress, the travel, she can handle it all.
When you find yourself in the dog house, how do you patch things up?
I’m Italian, I have an accent, I cook and I have an incredible wine cellar. What else do I need? With those four things I don’t get in trouble, period. I don’t go in the doghouse!
Finish this sentence; I’d rather be caught dead than…
I’d rather be caught dead than… I dunno, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life! [Laughs] Okay, I’d rather be caught dead than eating McDonald’s!
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
John Paul II, the pope. I met him when I was 8 years old, I baked an apple cake for him. He blessed me and said, “Kid, you’re gonna be great.” I would just want to tell him, “I love you man and you were right.”
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