12 Insider Secrets from Fabio Viviani

12 Insider Secrets from Fabio Viviani
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12 Insider Secrets from Fabio Viviani

Chef Fabio Viviani goes back to the basics, from simple tips for food preparation to advice on essential spices, to reveal his best insider secrets for entertaining. Read on to discover his best tricks for dinner parties.

Two-for-One Appetizers

"I'm sure that everyone reading this has a warm generous heart, but I need you to think cold for a second," Fabio says. "When you choose cold application appetizers, it means you can do them in advance. If you want to serve hot appetizers, that's totally ok. Just have two cold appetizers for every hot one. That means that while your guests are eating a cold one, you can warm the hot one and head back to the party until it's ready."

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Family Style

"Big platters, to me, equal family. If you want to make something easy, yet elegant, choose a platter and go to town! The platter makes for a big, impressive display of food, but puts everybody in charge of serving themselves. Less work for you, but you get all the credit," advises Fabio.

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Signature Cocktail

"I encourage responsible drinking, but any party that has a signature cocktail is one that I want to attend. Take an extra step to make your guests feel important. Your game plan? Make a base the day before to let the flavors meld, and add alcohol the day of the party," Fabio shares.

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Think Seasonally

"Sometimes what's in season can help significantly," Fabio offers. "For starters, if it's winter, don't serve white asparagus. Find a way to make a parsnip or potato sexy. Anybody can make asparagus look good, but the person that takes a root vegetable and turns it into a work of art should be applauded. When you plan your menu, if you take into account what's around you, it's usually cheaper and widely available. Shop smart and stay local."

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Set the Atmosphere

"You want your guest to go 'wow' when they step foot in your house. Use large vases filled with citrus and flowers for an exciting pop in spring/summer. Have a decorative wreath as a centerpiece during autumn, and use branches and greenery during the cold months. Have mood music [going] off in another room that acts as a filler. You don't want to have a sing-a-long but rather have someone say, 'I can't tell what that is, but it's nice to listen to.' I suggest some jazz tracks or softer alternative music. Easy on the ears and great for parties," recommends Fabio.

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Big Picture

"Don't worry if you should use canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, but understand that tomato soup needs to sit for a day. Detail = what tomatoes. Big picture = let it sit a day. By the time you eat it, you won't even remember if it was a fresh or canned tomatoes because of how freaking delicious it tastes," says Fabio.

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Importance of Spices

"Sure anyone can throw some salt and pepper on a steak and call it a day, but when you add the finer spices to your dish, it adds a new dimension to your cooking as well as your tasting experience," Fabio explains.

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Black Pepper

"Let’s start with the most basic spice there is: black pepper. This spice is made from the dried, unripe berries of the pepper plant. It is often used either ground or whole, and it is, like salt, one of the universal spices that can be found in nearly all cultures in the world, but it is especially important in dishes which call for curry or other spice mixes. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Rasa in London, makes an amazing crab dish with tons of black pepper—screaming hot and absolutely delicious," says Fabio.

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"One spice you may not be familiar with are cardamom pods," Fabio shares. "Cardamom pods are small green husks with little black seeds inside. They have a strong citrus-y, some people also say minty eucalyptus flavor that you either love or hate—I love it! Use them whole to perfume rice dishes or ground up in a curry. In India, cardamom's also used in sweets and desserts, much like we use vanilla in the west. They are also found in sweet breads in northern European countries. If you buy cardamom, it is best to buy them whole in the pods rather than ground up because this will preserve the flavors. You can do the grinding yourself when you are about to use them."

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"We all know cinnamon, but did you know you can use it in foods that are not sweet? Cinnamon sticks give a wonderful rich, musky flavor to meat curries and stews. Sicilians use them to flavor their beautiful tomato ragu. Ground cinnamon is great in cakes and biscuits and essential in apple pie," reveals Fabio.

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"Cloves are small and dark brown with a very strong, pungent perfume and flavor," describes Fabio. "In Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia, cloves are used in stews, curries and rice dishes. In the UK, cloves are most often used in desserts and cakes. They go very well with apples and citrus fruit like oranges and clementines. They also go great in pumpkin and other squash dishes. If you are in the fall spirit and cooking one of these squashes, use a little [clove] to spice it up a little bit. Do not use too much [because] they are very potent!"

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"Coriander seeds are small, round and light brown in color," explains Fabio. "When crushed in a pestle and mortar they have a fantastically sweet, orangey, nutty smell that goes well in curry mixes, pickles and stews. Like cumin seeds, they love to be toasted in a pan first before they're crushed. A great way of spicing up carrot soup!"

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"Cumin seeds are small and brown with a mild, sweet, aromatic flavor that people often associate with curries. Their flavor can be perked up a notch or two by toasting them lightly in a dry frying pan before grinding. I love to stir cumin into a chili at the last minute, and it's the business in guacamole," recommends Fabio.

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"For some of you lovely people, the word 'entertaining' or 'elegant', when used regarding food, might be intimidating, scary or simply dreadful. But why?" asks Fabio Viviani.

Known for his larger-than-life personality on several Top Chef franchise shows, Fabio Viviani knows a thing or two about cooking for a party. Lucky for us he's shared his best-kept secrets for preparing the ultimate get-together. His biggest take-home message? "Don't sweat the details, people. If you can grasp the big picture, the details will work themselves out—the prosciutto always brings itself home somehow... That's what my grandpa used to say."

Fabio goes back to the basics to help you simplify party preparation and add new dimension to your cooking. "Don't forget to send Uncle Fabio an invite, I don't like to be a party crasher," he jokes. "I'll bring a bottle of red and white over to make sure that everyone is happy, too."

Check out the slideshow above for Fabio Viviani's 12 best insider secrets.

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