Fabio Viviani has earned the right to sit down.
Saturday, the hunky television chef from Florence will welcome fans at the BJ’s Wholesale Club in Amherst. From 11 a.m. or thereabouts, he’ll have brief chats with strangers from behind a table and sign copies of his new cookbook, available for sale nearby, at a price significantly lower than the $24.99 printed on its cover.
The event is free for the public and enriching for Viviani. He’s getting paid for being a professional cook, without spending 12-hour shifts on his feet, skidding on greasy floors amid blisteringly hot stoves, razor-sharp knives and vats of boiling oil.
The only oil Viviani will concern himself with will be Bertolli olive oil, produced by the world’s biggest olive oil conglomerate. The scheduled four-hour event will include Viviani offering a pitch for the virtues of Bertolli, whose jumbo-sized bottles will be, not coincidentally, available deep inside the new warehouse store’s corridors. He’ll repeat the performance at a new North Carolina BJ’s next month.
That Saturday’s event is only marginally remarkable is a testament to the power and reach of food television, one of the most efficient solvents of human attention spans in recent history.
Viviani is of the newly familiar breed of television celebrity chef. No longer chained behind their stoves, they surf the country on waves of marketing dollars, flitting from ribbon-cutting to morning show TV appearance to cookbook signing, pausing only long enough to pose with fans for cellphone snaps.
He’s paid for his personal magnetism, literally: to draw people, like iron filings, from their couches. After so much time spent with him on their living room screens, fans are stirred to finally meet him in the flesh.
That urge isn’t new, certainly, but ex-quarterbacks and television stars used to get those roles. Just 20 years ago, the only chef in America with a national profile was Chef Boyardee, whose chunky mug was printed on every can of ravioli. Then came Wolfgang and Emeril, Bobby and Tyler, and Paula.
Though the excesses of their marketers make me cringe at times, like the Paula Deen-branded flour, or Rocco DiSpirito’s smirk on a box of salt, I have to say: more power to them. Chefs who have reached stardom through the kitchen door are no Kardashians. They have held down a physically demanding, pressure-packed job, for years; showed up on time; did the hard thing; got paid, for longer than a season of “Storage Wars.”
Viviani has worked in restaurants since his teens, owning and operating five Florence restaurants before he was 27, his website said. Maybe you’ve eaten at his restaurants in Los Angeles and Chicago, or read his cookbook, or watched his cooking show on Yahoo.
You might remember Viviani’s Italian accent and roguish looks from 2009’s “Top Chef Season Five,” where he was a fan favorite but washed out in the quarterfinals.
His work as an advertising pitchman was harder to miss. A central character of Domino’s 2011 “artisanal” pie rollout, his was the face that launched a million pizza deliveries. He holds down a regular slot on QVC, the shopping channel, lauding the merits of items such as “my brand new Bialetti 8-Piece Nano-Ceramic Nonstick Cookware Set!” He has a line of ceramic cookware at Bed Bath & Beyond. He’s also taken contracts to flog Chianti wine, Pellegrino water and German frozen pizza.
He has been quoted saying he turned down seven figures to pitch soda, because he doesn’t think it’s good for kids. In the same 2011 interview, with New York magazine’s Grub Street blog, he mentioned his new Twitter account and being “done” with “Top Chef.”
Viviani returned to Bravo last year, nonetheless, in “Life After Top Chef,” Bravo’s follow-up series, and there are no signs of him stopping.
Why should he? With the American cable television industry apparently bent on proving that any knucklehead who draws breath can be a television personality, no wonder television audiences are drawn to the Fabios of food television.
Click. Guys in jogging suits ham it up while waiting to unlock storage spaces. Click. Dudes with beards wrestling big fish that are not sharks. Click. Charming cook whipping up a dazzling dinner, seasoned with authentic accent? Yes, please, and I don’t need to see a menu.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Viviani will be at BJ’s Wholesale Club, 3056 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. He’ll meet fans and sign copies of his new cookbook, “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen.”