Born in Italy, “Top Chef” fan favorite Fabio Viviani’s passion for food was inspired by his grandmother’s baking. After beginning his culinary journey at age 11, Fabio later trained in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine with culinary mentors such as Simone Mugnain and Alessandro Panzani. He spoke with us about his connection to Alzheimer’s disease and how the power of food brings families around the table.
Fabio, tell us about your connection to Alzheimer’s.
My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years before he passed away in Italy in 2015. It was a family struggle for everyone involved, and a true family effort in caregiving. In the end, everyone came together to make him as comfortable as possible as his disease progressed.
I now work to spread awareness of Alzheimer’s with the Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my grandfather.
How does food bring people around your table?
Food is a great equalizer; it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. Everything I do is somehow related to the relationship I had with food while I was growing up: keeping things executable, connecting recipes to the stories behind them and passing them on from generation to generation.
I grew up in the rural suburbs of Florence. When I was 11, I had to find a job since my mother was so sick that she was unable to work. I was too young to be on staff at a local bakery, so I had an overnight job making pastries, pies and bread. I worked hard. I grew up knowing that not everyone has food and that food can be delicious even when it’s simple.
Having a direct relationship to creating food and sharing stories about the recipes of our family is what makes us who we are. At any event in history, the common denominator is always food, whether it’s a happy or sad event. It brings everyone together and to the same level.
Tell us about the new app you are working on, StoryCombs.
I helped create this platform so that people can watch and listen to their loved ones tell family stories even when everyone can't be together. The app helps families create narrated photo and video collections that allow everyone to connect from generation to generation. You may think that you ‘can’t cook like grandma used to’, but if your grandma shares a perfect crusty bread or Tuscan soup recipe firsthand in a video, it connects you to her story and her food. Everyone has moments that define who they are, and who is their journey best told by? Them! With StoryCombs, families coping with Alzheimer’s will have the peace of mind that their memories will be preserved – and the comfort that comes with sharing what’s important to them.
What advice do you have for families living with Alzheimer’s?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but we continue to have hope for the day when there will be. Until then, pass on the recipes and stories that inspire you. Keep an archive of your life. Whether you’re a war veteran, a family cook or a person living with Alzheimer’s, you have memories to share. Capture these moments for future generations. Share them now. Get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association like I did and spread awareness in honor of the people you love.
Listen to Fabio talk about one of his family memories in the video below and learn more about chefs joining the Alzheimer’s Association around the table here.
About Fabio: Fabio Viviani is a chef, culinary personality, restaurateur and cookbook author. Read more about Fabio and StoryCombs.
Around the Table