I had the pleasure of spending time with Chef Fabio Viviani, finalist from Season 5 of Bravo’s Top Chef, while he was in Milwaukee for an event to promote his new seasonal recipes website, Dinner is Served, a digital series he is doing in partnernship with Johnsonville!
In the series, Chef Fabio went into the kitchen with Jonnsonville employees to cook, teach them some of his culinary tricks, and enjoy a delicious Italian meal together. As a Milwaukeean, lifelong Johnsonville customer, and MAJOR fan of Chef Fabio’s season on Top Chef, I feel so lucky to have had the chance to ask him some questions about his upbringing, his experiences in and out of the kitchen, and the Dinner is Served series!
Beneath the interview, you can get a sneak peek (and drool over!) one of the recipes featured in the Dinner is Served series, a Sausage and Squash Skillet!
What is your earliest memory of cooking?
“I was a very active child who was always on the go looking for something to do. My grandmother was wheelchair bound, so, to help her out (and to keep me busy), she would have me stand between her legs on her wheelchair seat and help her out in the kitchen. It helped my grandmother prepare meals while also keeping me occupied. A lot of the time, I would help her make cake batter and she’d have me whisk the batter until I was tired!”
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Italy and moved to Ventura, California in 2005. My wife and I later moved to Chicago where we currently reside.”
When did you begin your professional culinary career?
“I had my first job in Italy when I was 11 years old. I worked third shift making pies at a bakery. Later, when I was 18 years old, I opened my first pastry shop.”
What was it like to be on Top Chef?
“It was a very unique experience, unlike anything I’ve done before. Initially, I turned down the offer to be on the show, but I later ended up agreeing to it. I made it to the finale of Season 5, which took about seven weeks to shoot.”
Could you tell me about the Dinner is Served Series?
“I partnered with Johnsonville for the series. It immediately felt like a really good fit as the series is focused on not just food, but also the lifestyle surrounding cooking, something that is really important to me. Cooking is about food, but it’s also about the life and story behind the recipe. In the series, each recipe is centered around the experience. I had the opportunity to shoot some of the videos for the series with Garrid, a single father. I was able to show him options for quick, easy-to-prepare recipes that are ready within ten minutes.”
What is your favorite Johnsonville product?
“I love all of them! My family enjoys their sausage products regularly. If I had to pick, though, I would choose two: the Spicy Italian and the Red Wine & Cheese Sausage, which is basically a cheese board in sausage form. What’s better than that?!”
The Red Wine & Cheese Italian Sausage sounds so delicious! What types of recipes does it work well in?
“It is delicious just sliced up and served with vegetables. They are so flavorful on their own!”
What is your favorite meal to cook? To eat? How about your favorite ingredient to cook with?
“I love to make pasta in the food processor. As a native-Italian, I grew up doing this and we eat homemade pasta at home often. Otherwise, I love just a simple meal of vegetables and grass-fed protein. I am someone who cares a lot about the sourcing of the protein I cook, serve, and eat. My steakhouse is actually the only steakhouse in the Midwest the sells dry-aged grass-fed beef.”
I am so excited to share your Sausage and Squash recipe! What do you love about it?
“It has really good body with all of the different flavors and textures. I love the caramelized sausage and the squash’s natural sweetness results in a really versatile dish. Even better, it’s family-friendly, as it’s easy to prepare and almost impossible to mess up. I love to batch-prepare it so I have some ready in the refrigerator for dinners all week.”
Sausage and Squash Skillet
Recipe & photos courtesy of Chef Fabio Viviani & Johnsonville
Prep time: 10 mins
Total time: 30 mins
½ medium butternut squash
1 package (16 ounces) Johnsonville® Ground Hot Italian Sausage or 1 package (19 ounces) Johnsonville® Hot Italian Sausage Links, casings removed*
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped sage + 6 whole leaves
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Peel squash, discard seeds. Cut into thin slices.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add the olive oil, butter and sausage. Cook and stir for 5-7 minutes, until sausage is browned and fully cooked.
- Add garlic and chopped sage, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove sausage mixture from the skillet, set aside.
- In the same skillet, layer half of the squash, sausage and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers.
- Cover and heat on low for 15-20 minutes or until squash is tender.
- To make crispy sage leaves: in a small skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons oil until hot. Fry sage leaves until crisp and they begin to curl, about 5 seconds. Drain on paper towels.
* De-casing Sausage Instructions
- With the tip of a knife, cut the sausage along the top of the link, end to end vertically. Be sure not to cut all the way through the sausage.
- Flip sausage over, cut side down.
- Grab the split casing on one end with your thumb and forefinger and pull back the casing.
Option: To make the process a bit easier, place the uncooked sausage in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes before slicing. The sausage will firm up a bit, which will help prevent the meat from sticking to the casing.