In the kitchen, Giorgio Rapicavoli creates some of Miami’s most creative dishes. A 2013 semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year honor, the 28-year-old has worked in some of South Florida’s hottest restaurants and alongside renowned chef Joshua Viertel and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Alice Waters. After becoming Miami’s first champ on Food Network’s Chopped in 2012, Rapicavoli took his winnings and launched Eating House, a pop-up restaurant in Coral Gables. In December 2013, the now-permanent restaurant celebrated its first anniversary and has become one of the city’s must-try destinations.
An artist in and out of the kitchen, Rapicavoli also creates art and music, and trains for triathlons. During one of his rare breaks recently, he chatted with us about his favorite culinary inspirations and where he likes to indulge around town.
When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
I can’t exactly pinpoint a time when I knew I wanted to be a chef. It’s kind of all I’ve ever known. I grew up watching food television and cooking at home. I chose Julia Child over Sesame Street. And I was very fortunate to grow up in a family where life revolved around food.
Tell us about your cooking style and philosophy.
I think my style of cooking is heavily influenced by the city I grew up in. Growing up with an Italian mom, an Argentine dad, and going to school in the middle of Westchester [a Miami suburb], I was exposed to tons of different cultures and foods. I really hope people get a taste of what Miami is when they come to Eating House. I love my city and I try to let the food showcase its flavors.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where are we most likely to find you?
When I’m not at my restaurant, one can usually find me at other restaurants. I love going to Blue Collar, Scarpetta, Pubbelly, Yakko-San, Macchialina and Blackbrick. I also got really into doing triathlons, so I spend a lot of time training. It’s rewarding, keeps me in shape and is a great way to work off the calories from all those delicious meals around town.
You’ve worked with the likes of Alice Waters and chefs renowned for the slow food movement. What have been the greatest lessons you’ve learned from them?
Slow food has been an integral part of my life from the beginning. My family is from the city Bra in Italy where [the movement] was founded, and I even have family there who work for Slow Food [International, a non-profit that encourages alternatives to fast food]. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend Terra Madre Day [the organization’s annual worldwide celebration of local food] recently, and it was a life-changing experience. It taught me to really appreciate food and its importance in culture and family. That being said, it’s pretty ironic that we serve things like Cap’n Crunch pancakes and conchita guava on our torrejas at Eating House. But to me, those flavors are memories of my upbringing and fit into a bit of the philosophy I picked up from being a part of Slow Food.
How do you incorporate your street art and music into your work?
When we opened Eating House, we didn’t want to be confined to a certain style of cooking, so we came up with the motto, “If cooking is art, we’re making graffiti.” The restaurant embodies all those aspects from the graffiti-decorated walls to the classic hip-hop music we play.
Eating House has helped put Coral Gables on the map as a place to eat. What makes the restaurant unique?
Eating House is one of the only chef-driven restaurants that opened in the Gables in the last 10 years. After Norman’s 180 closed a while back, the Gables saw a surge of chains and restaurants that were not so chef-driven — or at least didn’t stay that way for long. I think people enjoy that our approach is young, casual and fresh. We try to make a different type of environment, where you can get fun and creative food at a good price with really comfortable service. We called it Eating House because we wanted our guests to feel like they were eating at our house, the way we’d serve food to our friends if they were over.
What are some of the most popular dishes at Eating House?
The heirloom tomatoes with coconut ice, chicken and foie-ffles, Brussels sprouts with Korean barbecue sauce, pasta carbonara with black truffle, and the dirt cup all still rule the menu.
What can diners expect when they come to Eating House?
Lots of great energy. We play, in our opinion, some of the best music ever made — classic hip-hop, reggae and freestyle on Friday nights. Freestyle was huge in Miami in the ’90s. The menu is constantly changing, so if you come in every couple weeks, you’ll always be able to try new dishes while still getting to have our “classics.” One thing that seems to stay the same is the crew. We’re such a tight family of friends that our staff rarely changes; it helps us connect with our guests.
Do you have plans for Eating House or any new ventures?
We’re always dreaming up new things we want to do: special dinners, events and new concepts. I just went to Austin for Indie Chefs Week and would love to bring something like that here. I have a ton of other ideas running around my head at all times, too. But when Alex Cassanova, my business partner, and I traveled through Italy and Spain a while back, our nights in Barcelona eating at Cervecería Catalana really stuck out to us. We talk about trying to capture that experience and bringing it to Miami all the time. We are actually getting serious about one thing that has me stoked, but I can’t say too much else about it. Just know that new and exciting stuff is always on the horizon for us.
Photo Courtesy of Eating House