Fabio Viviani: Fabio’s 30-Minute Italian

“Good cooking and a lot of flavor don’t have to take a lot of time,” says Fabio Viviani, chef, restauranteur and TV personality, explaining why he wrote Fabio’s 30-Minute Italian (St. Martin’s 2017; $27.99), his beautifully photographed cookbook filled with wonderfully accessible recipes. “The whole premise is easy.”

Viviani, who grew up in Florence, Italy, started working in a bakery when he was 11 not so much from a love of food but because he needed to work to help out his family. But labor developed into a passion. Now 28 years later, he’s amassed a food empire with two California vineyards, several cookbooks, stints on several Top Chef show (he won Fan Favorite on Season Five), restaurants including two in Chicago—Siena Tavern and Prime & Provisions and his Mercado concept, described as a “rustic-yet refined eatery destination by celebrity chef Fabio Viviani” with locations that include Chicago, Tempe, Arizona and Benton Harbor, Michigan.

He also currently has a weekly web series, “Fabio’s Kitchen” and is doing “Dinner is Served,” an online video series

With such a busy schedule, I wonder if he ever gets tired of cooking.

“I like it,” he says, “sometimes I don’t. It’s like a marriage, you yell at each other and then you go back to it.”

Asked what recipes he might recommend for those who haven’t cooked Italian before, Viviani recommends the chapters on pasta and salads because they have, for the most part particularly if you don’t make your pasta from scratch, “have less ingredients and take less time.”

Noting that his Italian heritage taught him less is more, Viviani says “you don’t have to overdo it to put really good food on the table.”

Ifyougo:

What: Fabio will be doing a presentation, cooking demo, Q&A, & cookbook signing.

When: Tuesday, May 16 at

Where: Snaidero Showroom, 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL

Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place

When David McAninch first moved to Plaisance du Gers, a small village in Gascony, with his wife Michele and their young daughter, Charlotte, he was going full-force Francophile by indulging a dream he’d nourished for years—to become part of French village life, a move he chronicles in Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony, France’s Last Best Place (Harper 2017; $28.99). McAninch had lived in Paris and the South of France at various times in his life, but Gascony with its traditions centered around what was grown on the land or made locally, was in some ways like place time had overlooked. The nearest McDonald’s was in Toulouse, a two-hour drive away, very little processed food was available and tourists seldom seemed to find their way to this part of Southwestern France.

McAninch, an editor at Chicago magazine, had first discovered Gascony when researching a story on duck and was determined to return for a much longer stay. Getting an assignment, he started researching and was surprised to find how little was written about Gascony. Unlike other regions of France, there were few cookbooks and even fewer less restaurants focusing on Gascony cuisines. His bible became Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine.

 He became captivated with the old fashioned farmhouse practices of making the foods that define Gascony such as Armagnac (and please don’t call it Cognac in front of a Gascon)–a rich brandy made from a blend of white wine grapes. Among other regional specialties are Madiran, a blackish, tannic red wine and Pacherenc, the local white, dry cured ham and confit—where duck is first salted and then cooked in its own fat which then acts as a preservation method.

Of course, when living in Gascony, it helps to love duck which is always on the menu. At first Michele McAninch isn’t sure about this 24/7 duck thing but her husband says within two months she was eating skewers of grilled duck hearts and he realized Gascony had won her heart—and her stomach as well. Obviously they know how to cook duck in Gascony.

But then, when reading McAninch’s sweet and humorous memoir of the eight months the family spent there, it becomes apparent that the Gascons take their cooking very seriously indeed.

“Every meal is special,” says McAninch. “The cuisine of this corner of Southwestern France is very focused on having three wonderful meals a day—usually with wine at lunch and dinner, but not too much so.”

The family brought a little Gascony back with them as well.

“On the weekends I make garbure, the classic peasant soup,” says McAninch. “It’s a beautifully simple dish and it really embodies the food of this region.”

They also relish a small slice of quiet time each evening, where for just 15 minutes or so, David and Michele sip a glass of wine (though it’s hard to find Madiran says McAninch) and Charlotte enjoys her sparkling water in a fancy glass. For those moments it’s almost like being in Gers again.

Ifyougo:

What: David McAninch is doing several book events.

Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30pm he’ll be at Froggy’s French Café, 306 Greenbay Road, Highwood, IL. Tickets are $45 for dinner. To register, call 847-234-4420.

Thursday, March 16th at 7pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free.

(773) 293-2665.

Tuesday, March 21 at 12:00pm, University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL. For reservations, call The Book Stall at 847-446-8880.

Nathan Hill: Author of The Nix

the-nix600 pages and eight years ago, Nathan Hill started writing a short story.

“I guess I gave myself permission to keep going,” says Hill, about The Nix (Knopf 2016; $27.95), his recently published—to rave reviews—novel that covers a lengthy time period and numerous geographic locations as he tells the story of Sam Andresen-Anderson, a disgruntled professor at a small college near Chicago. Unable to muster the energy to complete a book for which he was paid a large advance and fearing the publisher will sue to get the money back (it’s already been spent), he is also grappling with a plagiarizing student who might also sue him and pining for his childhood love. What’s a guyhill_credit-to-michael-lionstar_fotor to do? For Sam, it’s spending too many hours playing the World of Elfscape, a World of Warcraft-like computer game.

But Sam sees salvation when his mother, who long ago abandoned him, is caught on video throwing rocks at a politician. The video goes viral and Sam convinces his publisher to change out his unwritten novel for a bio of his mother. It’s also a way to learn who she really is—a radical feminist as the media portrays her or the girl who married her high school sweetheart.

A nix, in Norwegian mythology, is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse and steals children away. In Hill’s book, it’s anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.

“Hill has so much talent to burn that he can pull off just about any style, imagine himself into any person and convincingly portray any place or time,” writes the New York Times in a review. “The Nix is hugely entertaining and unfailingly smart, and the author seems incapable of writing a pedestrian sentence or spinning a boring story.”

Hill says the reason he took so long to finish the book is that he didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t know what the ending would be.

“I just lived with these characters for a very, very long time and the more I wrote, the cleared their story became,” says Hill, who grew up in Streamwood, teaches at a college in Florida and now spends summers in Chicago where his wife, a classical musician, plays for the Grand Park Symphony.

“One of the nice things about writing this book besides getting to know the characters so well, was spending long, long afternoons in the Chicago History Museum wearing white gloves and looking at old photos,” says Hill who is 50 pages into his next novel—a plus for those who love The Nix as it means they might not have to wait eight years to see it on the bookshelf.

Ifyougo:

What: Nathan Hill Book signing
When: September 15 at 7pm

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665; words@bookcellarinc.com

 

 

 

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