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'Top Chef' alums Fabio Viviani, Carla Hall, and Jeff McInnis talk future projects

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They didn’t take home the top prize, but Fabio Viviani, Carla Hall, and Jeff McInnis still might be the most memorable contestants from season 5 of Top Chef, and they are clearly taking advantage of their increased visibility: Each has an upcoming project in the works (even if they can’t yet tell us what it is). First up? Viviani’s cookbook, Café Firenze Cookbook, which will be released in late June. Viviani, Hall, and McInnis took time out of creating custom-made sundaes for Marble Slab Creamery for a spirited chat about their craziest fans, Martha Stewart, and what we can expect from them in the very near future (Hint: Is that a Fabio-helmed TV show we hear?).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How’s life been post-Top Chef? Crazy, I’m sure.

JEFF McINNIS: Yea, crazy. Different. Crazy busy.

FABIO VIVANI: More stuff to do, no time to get it done.

You guys are still working at your respective restaurants and Carla, in your case, Alchemy Caterers. Have things gotten busier?

FV: Top Chef did help. For myself, it did help a lot. I was running a restaurant [Café Firenze] that was successful. Now it’s even busier. We increased the sales quite a bit. And plus, I have the chance to meet people that did help. I’m publishing a book, opening two more restaurants, working on some other projects, and everything’s coming along very well.

When is your book coming out?

FV: My book is coming out end of June, beginning of July. It’s the Café Firenze Cookbook. It’s a different take to the classic cookbook.

CARLA HALL: It’s written in broken English.

FV: It’s written in broken English, but it will make you cry. You’ll cry as much as you laugh. It’s funny.

CH: We’ll be the judges of that.

Are you doing a book tour?

FV: Yea, 16 cities. We’re going to hit almost 70 stores. We got a sponsor for it. We got good people behind us. The book is going to be great. It’s going to be everywhere. You think about it, you name it: Target, Wal-Mart, Costco.

How about you, Jeff? Any new projects post-Top Chef?

JM: It was a weird time to get off the show. Once we got off the show, that was whenever the market started crashing. My productivity of the restaurant I’m at—the Ritz-Carlton—it definitely went up. You just always wonder if it would have been different if everything was on an even playing field. But like Fabio, I started on a book about six months before going on the show, and then of course, once the show happened, I pushed on it real hard. I had it done. I’m working on getting it a major publisher right now….It’s called The Natural Course, and it kind of documents a portion of my life from childhood to the end, and I support local farmers. I’d say 25 percent of my book just talks about farmers themselves and about taking care of the animals and being kind to animals. I’m a firm believer of what you put in your body is what you’re going to get out of your body.

So is the book a part-memoir?

JM: Yea, I guess. The chapters go from “Farm”—my grandparents had a farm growing up on both sides of the family, so it touches on that again—and then the second chapter would be “Ocean,” [since] I grew up in Florida all my life.

It’s clear from the show that you guys all got along pretty well.

JM: Yea, no one was ever cutting anybody’s throat.

There have been rumors over the past few months that some season five-ers might get TV show deals, particularly you three. Any truth to that?

CH: Yea, maybe.

JM: I started a documentary awhile ago. The Foodie Phenomenon. I had a team. We were going through all these things I was telling you about, the Wine and Food Fest and everything, asking the question, what the hell is going on in America today? Why is everybody in the past ten years—my mother didn’t even have balsamic vinegar here in America ten years ago, but now, she’s obsessed with the Food Network and Martha Stewart and everything, and everybody’s buying cookbooks. In the past decade, America’s just exploded. So the documentary was based on that. And the documentary has fallen off. I’ll be honest. It’s hard to get backing. I’m working on two pilots, and that documentary, I think I’m going to put on hold.

What kind of pilots are you working on? Is there a theme?

JM: If I gave that away, that would be like giving the end of a book away. But look out for Fabio.

CH: You’ll see him before you’ll see us.

Any TV deals for you Fabio? We’ve been hearing the rumors for some time…

FV: There is something in the making. Of course, we can’t talk about it. But trust me, you will see it soon. There is something in the making. We can’t say who, when, how.

So I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

FV: You won’t have to wait much. There’s not much to wait here. But something is in the making. You can say that Fabio will start laughing in the night.

It’s probably nice, though, because there are so many food networks out there now that you can pitch to.

CH: Right. I think that the project that I’m hoping to come across is something where it’s more about inspiring people. And I cook for inspiration. That’s my passion. But I would still like to inspire the person who does garden work, or who teaches, or is a doctor. I think when you see somebody who loves what they do, hopefully it inspires you to do what you love.

Some time has passed since the season 5 finale. Are you still happy about the show? Angry?

FV: I’m very happy. It’s true, they can copy and paste things that you’ve done or said here and there, but they cannot put stuff in your mouth. So whatever you said, or done, maybe not in that context, but you said it, you done it. So it doesn’t really matter. If you look like an ass, you probably are. I’m very happy with it. The way that Carla looks on the show, is the way that she is. If you hang out with her, you laugh. She’s great. She’s jumping all over. And the way that I look is the way that I am. I wasn’t trying to be funny. They said I have some great lines, but I wasn’t trying to be funny. That was just coming out of my head. You can’t really fix that.

Jeff, you were portrayed as the season five heartthrob. Any problems with that?

JM: It’s fine. It could be worse, right?

CH: [He’s] the Baywatch guy!

JM: I didn’t mind that. I can be a pretty boy, that’s fine. Sex sells, right?

FV: Well, porn is the biggest industry.

JM: Well, not that kind of sex. You were my roommate, bro.

FV: That’s why I moved out, because you were always naked! I’m just kidding. He’s a great guy.

What’s been the fan reaction to you guys?

JM: Crazy.

CH: Really crazy.

Carla, you must be so tired of people yelling “Hootie-Hoo!” at you.

CH: No, it’s hard to find my husband, but other than that…People have gotten to know me over the 15-week period that I was on the show, and now it’s my opportunity for me to get to know them. And that’s how I look at it. I have to think of a way to keep it fresh. If someone comes up, I haven’t met that person before, so I can’t penalize them because 100 people came up to me before that one person.  But it’s fun.

FV: Tons of email. Tons of letters. It feels good. The only problem is, I don’t want to play a rock star, so I’m trying to answer to everybody and it’s impossible. It’s physically impossible. And I live in a little town. Moorpark [California]. 35,000 people. Everybody’s at the restaurant. Everybody. [There’s] a line on a Tuesday night to get in. It’s crazy.

JM: I definitely have a fan base. There’s a lot of weird stuff that goes on with that.

What kind of weird stuff?

JM: Um…I don’t know why, but I guess I’m pretty popular in prisons. I guess they all have televisions now. I am every prison boy’s dream. I don’t know what it is. There’re good fans, and there’s scary fans. And I’ve definitely met them all. Let’s put it that way. But I love all the fans. They’re really nice. But it is difficult to keep up with everything.

CH: I get a lot of kids.

JM: I get a lot of cougars.

CH: I get people my age, older people, a lot of religious people. People from any religious group. It’s the whole thing of, people will tell me, we’re so glad with how you competed. It’s interesting who gravitates toward us. And I can’t tell you how many teenyboppers I’ve seen wearing that shirt with Fabio’s face. “Carla, Carla! Can I have your autograph? You’re my favorite!” Then why are you wearing Fabio’s shirt?

FV: Bravo, they sold lots of [the shirts]. Like, lots of them. They said several hundred thousand [were sold]. Like, seriously?

Anything you guys regret from the show?

CH: Let me just say, I don’t regret working with Casey [for the final challenge]. I really enjoyed working with her. I think I just didn’t perform well. Restaurant Wars, that was really hard. And thankfully I was on Jeff’s team. Restaurant Wars, I would have worked on my dish first, and then helped later.

F: I loved the Restaurant Wars. “The food is Asian? Okay, front of the house [for me].” [But] I would love to have a sit-down discussion with Martha Stewart.

C: I knew it was that! The mushroom polenta.

F: She didn’t taste it. She got on the show, she had to promote her book. Who buys Martha Stewart books? Housewives! Women! I don’t have a Martha Stewart book! What happens then, she didn’t really try my food. I don’t care who won the challenge. Just make sure that you taste the food before you judge. But truly, she dipped the fork in the polenta. There was nothing on it, she tasted it, and she walked

away. And I was like, she didn’t even taste it. [But] she’s Martha Stewart. I’ve been working with people who have worked with her, and they said she’s very harsh sometimes. I want to make everybody happy. I would probably have Jeff’s friends in jail too, because I try to make everybody happy. And I like people that are approachable, and she didn’t look that way. And you think about it, Martha Stewart, she feeds everybody, you know? Martha Stewart, the biggest brand in the U.S. So what I was expecting was a more loving, fun person in front of you. But I’m sure she’s nice. But she didn’t touch my mushroom polenta, so I was really upset.

Jeff, were you upset that the show brought you back for a second chance in New Orleans, only to kick you off again in the same episode?

JM: Not at all. I was honored to come back. I’ll be honest, I was kicking and screaming when they kicked me off the first time. I thought they should kick [Fabio] off. So I was ticked about that. But I can’t say enough about New Orleans. I love New Orleans. And honestly, whenever I got sent there, there’s something about the energy of the city. I’ve been there twice since the show and it’s been extremely amazing. They edited it. They asked me, “If you come back and you win and you win the car and you win the money, what are you going to do with it?” And I said, “In my opinion, I don’t deserve to be here. This is my second chance. I’m going to give everything to the city of New Orleans and I’m going to find somebody who wasn’t able to open a restaurant that was destroyed by Katrina and wasn’t able to get back on their feet, I’m going to give them the car and the money and hopefully that will be enough to help them get their restaurant back open again.” And even though I wasn’t playing, something in the air with me saying that—I’m not extremely spiritual, but ever since that day, that city has paid me back tenfold.

How about you, Jeff? Any new projects post-Top Chef?

JM: It was a weird time to get off the show. Once we got off the show, that was whenever the market started crashing. My productivity of the restaurant I’m at—the Ritz-Carlton—it definitely went up. You just always wonder if it would have been different if everything was on an even playing field. But like Fabio, I started on a book about six months before going on the show, and then of course, once the show happened, I pushed on it real hard. I had it done. I’m working on getting it a major publisher right now….It’s called The Natural Course, and it kind of documents a portion of my life from childhood to the end, and I support local farmers. I’d say 25 percent of my book just talks about farmers themselves and about taking care of the animals and being kind to animals. I’m a firm believer of what you put in your body is what you’re going to get out of your body.

So is the book a part-memoir?

JM: Yea, I guess. The chapters go from “Farm”—my grandparents had a farm growing up on both sides of the family, so it touches on that again—and then the second chapter would be “Ocean,” [since] I grew up in Florida all my life.

It’s clear from the show that you guys all got along pretty well.

JM: Yea, no one was ever cutting anybody’s throat.

There have been rumors over the past few months that some season five-ers might get TV show deals, particularly you three. Any truth to that?

CH: Yea, maybe.

JM: I started a documentary awhile ago. The Foodie Phenomenon. I had a team. We were going through all these things I was telling you about, the Wine and Food Fest and everything, asking the question, what the hell is going on in America today? Why is everybody in the past ten years—my mother didn’t even have balsamic vinegar here in America ten years ago, but now, she’s obsessed with the Food Network and Martha Stewart and everything, and everybody’s buying cookbooks. In the past decade, America’s just exploded. So the documentary was based on that. And the documentary has fallen off. I’ll be honest. It’s hard to get backing. I’m working on two pilots, and that documentary, I think I’m going to put on hold.

What kind of pilots are you working on? Is there a theme?

JM: If I gave that away, that would be like giving the end of a book away. But look out for Fabio.

CH: You’ll see him before you’ll see us.

Any TV deals for you Fabio? We’ve been hearing the rumors for some time…

FV: There is something in the making. Of course, we can’t talk about it. But trust me, you will see it soon. There is something in the making. We can’t say who, when, how.

So I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

FV: You won’t have to wait much. There’s not much to wait here. But something is in the making. You can say that Fabio will start laughing in the night.

It’s probably nice, though, because there are so many food networks out there now that you can pitch to.

CH: Right. I think that the project that I’m hoping to come across is something where it’s more about inspiring people. And I cook for inspiration. That’s my passion. But I would still like to inspire the person who does garden work, or who teaches, or is a doctor. I think when you see somebody who loves what they do, hopefully it inspires you to do what you love.

Some time has passed since the season 5 finale. Are you still happy about the show? Angry?

FV: I’m very happy. It’s true, they can copy and paste things that you’ve done or said here and there, but they cannot put stuff in your mouth. So whatever you said, or done, maybe not in that context, but you said it, you done it. So it doesn’t really matter. If you look like an ass, you probably are. I’m very happy with it. The way that Carla looks on the show, is the way that she is. If you hang out with her, you laugh. She’s great. She’s jumping all over. And the way that I look is the way that I am. I wasn’t trying to be funny. They said I have some great lines, but I wasn’t trying to be funny. That was just coming out of my head. You can’t really fix that.

Jeff, you were portrayed as the season five heartthrob. Any problems with that?

JM: It’s fine. It could be worse, right?

CH: [He’s] the Baywatch guy!

JM: I didn’t mind that. I can be a pretty boy, that’s fine. Sex sells, right?

FV: Well, porn is the biggest industry.

JM: Well, not that kind of sex. You were my roommate, bro.

FV: That’s why I moved out, because you were always naked! I’m just kidding. He’s a great guy.

What’s been the fan reaction to you guys?

JM: Crazy.

CH: Really crazy.

Carla, you must be so tired of people yelling “Hootie-Hoo!” at you.

CH: No, it’s hard to find my husband, but other than that…People have gotten to know me over the 15-week period that I was on the show, and now it’s my opportunity for me to get to know them. And that’s how I look at it. I have to think of a way to keep it fresh. If someone comes up, I haven’t met that person before, so I can’t penalize them because 100 people came up to me before that one person.  But it’s fun.

FV: Tons of email. Tons of letters. It feels good. The only problem is, I don’t want to play a rock star, so I’m trying to answer to everybody and it’s impossible. It’s physically impossible. And I live in a little town. Moorpark [California]. 35,000 people. Everybody’s at the restaurant. Everybody. [There’s] a line on a Tuesday night to get in. It’s crazy.

JM: I definitely have a fan base. There’s a lot of weird stuff that goes on with that.

What kind of weird stuff?

JM: Um…I don’t know why, but I guess I’m pretty popular in prisons. I guess they all have televisions now. I am every prison boy’s dream. I don’t know what it is. There’re good fans, and there’s scary fans. And I’ve definitely met them all. Let’s put it that way. But I love all the fans. They’re really nice. But it is difficult to keep up with everything.

CH: I get a lot of kids.

JM: I get a lot of cougars.

CH: I get people my age, older people, a lot of religious people. People from any religious group. It’s the whole thing of, people will tell me, we’re so glad with how you competed. It’s interesting who gravitates toward us. And I can’t tell you how many teenyboppers I’ve seen wearing that shirt with Fabio’s face. “Carla, Carla! Can I have your autograph? You’re my favorite!” Then why are you wearing Fabio’s shirt?

FV: Bravo, they sold lots of [the shirts]. Like, lots of them. They said several hundred thousand [were sold]. Like, seriously?

Anything you guys regret from the show?

CH: Let me just say, I don’t regret working with Casey [for the final challenge]. I really enjoyed working with her. I think I just didn’t perform well. Restaurant Wars, that was really hard. And thankfully I was on Jeff’s team. Restaurant Wars, I would have worked on my dish first, and then helped later.

F: I loved the Restaurant Wars. “The food is Asian? Okay, front of the house [for me].” [But] I would love to have a sit-down discussion with Martha Stewart.

C: I knew it was that! The mushroom polenta.

F: She didn’t taste it. She got on the show, she had to promote her book. Who buys Martha Stewart books? Housewives! Women! I don’t have a Martha Stewart book! What happens then, she didn’t really try my food. I don’t care who won the challenge. Just make sure that you taste the food before you judge. But truly, she dipped the fork in the polenta. There was nothing on it, she tasted

it, and she walked away. And I was like, she didn’t even taste it. [But] she’s Martha Stewart. I’ve been working with people who have worked with her, and they said she’s very harsh sometimes. I want to make everybody happy. I would probably have Jeff’s friends in jail too, because I try to make everybody happy. And I like people that are approachable, and she didn’t look that way. And you think about it, Martha Stewart, she feeds everybody, you know? Martha Stewart, the biggest brand in the U.S. So what I was expecting was a more loving, fun person in front of you. But I’m sure she’s nice. But she didn’t touch my mushroom polenta, so I was really upset.

Jeff, were you upset that the show brought you back for a second chance in New Orleans, only to kick you off again in the same episode?

JM: Not at all. I was honored to come back. I’ll be honest, I was kicking and screaming when they kicked me off the first time. I thought they should kick [Fabio] off. So I was ticked about that. But I can’t say enough about New Orleans. I love New Orleans. And honestly, whenever I got sent there, there’s something about the energy of the city. I’ve been there twice since the show and it’s been extremely amazing. They edited it. They asked me, “If you come back and you win and you win the car and you win the money, what are you going to do with it?” And I said, “In my opinion, I don’t deserve to be here. This is my second chance. I’m going to give everything to the city of New Orleans and I’m going to find somebody who wasn’t able to open a restaurant that was destroyed by Katrina and wasn’t able to get back on their feet, I’m going to give them the car and the money and hopefully that will be enough to help them get their restaurant back open again.” And even though I wasn’t playing, something in the air with me saying that—I’m not extremely spiritual, but ever since that day, that city has paid me back tenfold.

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