Giorgio Rapicavoli, Miami’s Hottest Chef Cooks Up ‘Stoner Food’ for the Masses
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli isn’t afraid to get experimental and inventive with his cooking — or his attitude.
When Giorgio Rapicavoli’s mother was pregnant with him, she would sit at home and watch hours of cooking shows. At the age of 3, he would alternate between episodes of Sesame Street and Julia Child’s cooking shows.
Fast-forward to age 28, and Rapicavoli is a young, talented chef and co-owner of two popular and successful restaurants in the Miami area: Eating House and Taperia Raca. The unapologetically confident Rapicavoli, voted Miami’s hottest chef, has cooked for Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan and Sammy Sosa, and is dedicated to enhancing the Miami culinary scene.
Rapicavoli is listed in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” for food and has been named a James Beard Rising Star semifinalist.
He’s known for his inventive and inspired meals, and the menu at his restaurant Eating House changes daily. It’s been called “elevated stoner food” — the brunch is renowned for its Tang mimosas and Captain Crunch pancakes with milk syrup. The restaurant hosts an annual 4/20 dinner. Rapicavoli cooks with nitrous oxide and will dedicate a lot of time and energy to making the perfect ketchup, and pair it with frozen premade Tater Tots. “We put all of this effort into the food, but you don’t need to know about all of the process and bullshit,” he says, referring to a food fad where the preparation of the food is the star. Rapicavoli is bucking that trend in favor of pure hedonism for the consumer. The food may be made in a fancy way, but you don’t have to be fancy to eat it.
We don’t cook for other people. We cook to make something that we’re proud of.
— Giorgio Rapicavoli
The Argentine-Italian Rapicavoli says he’s always wanted to be a chef, ever since he was little and scrambling eggs as a toddler in Miami. Rapicavoli and his younger sister were raised by a single mother, whom he brought up multiple times in the conversation, softening when he spoke about all she did for him. He is the first of his family to be born in the states — his family originally comes from Bra, Italy, the town where the Slow Food movement began.
“We’re a very Italian family,” says Rapicavoli. “I grew up with a lot of dinner parties in the house.”
When he was 14, he got a job as a busboy at a restaurant and convinced the owner to let him work in the kitchen illegally while still getting paid as a busboy. Despite graduating high school “by the skin of [his] teeth,” he had a 3.99 GPA when he attended Johnson & Wales’s culinary school. He says when his scholarship to culinary school ran out, he realized he was miserable and “wasting my money working with kids that were never going to make it.” He dropped out and worked his way up the Coral Gables restaurant scene, making it to chef de cuisine at 21 years old.
In 2012 Rapicavoli went on Chopped at the behest of his mother. He won, and impressed the judges so much that one of them invited him to New York City to work as a chef de cuisine in his restaurant. However, Rapicavoli’s devotion to Miami kept him in the city, and he used the $10,000 prize money to start pop-up restaurant Eating House with longtime friend Alex Casanova.
But how far will this “stoner” sensibility take him?
Originally, Eating House had to share the space with an existing cafe. “That was madness,” recalls Rapicavoli. Due to their lack of investors, they had to constantly make due with challenging equipment, like using an old oven held together with duct tape. Despite the obstacles, the pop-up was so popular that it eventually became permanent, and the Miami Herald called it “hipster cool,” a “cult favorite” that brings excitement to the Coral Gables dining scene.
But how far will this “stoner” sensibility take him? Rather than fade away as a one-hit wonder, Rapicavoli opened up a second restaurant with Casanova, a Spanish tapas restaurant called Taperia Raca, with dishes that are equally imaginative but perhaps more sober. They divide their time between restaurants and hired a chef de cuisine at each. Adriana Egozcue, the chef de cusine at Eating House, says she is constantly learning from her “headstrong and passionate” boss, who teachers her “all facets of the business.” Rapicavoli is a triathlete and often goes running with his staff on Sundays.
He is fiercely protective of his staff, and dislikes criticism of his restaurant’s service by food bloggers or Yelp reviewers, in particular. “My business partner, he’ll read a review where they say, ‘The manager was superarrogant with us,’” says Rapicavoli. “Yeah, we are. We built this place from the ground up. Well, fuck you, you can leave my restaurant if you don’t like me. I speak my mind and I speak the truth. It’s so embarrassing; you don’t have to retweet every time somebody is having lunch at your restaurant. I’m so glad you liked my meal? Bullshit. Chefs now, it’s like a show. We’ve always been true to ourselves. We don’t cook for other people. We cook to make something that we’re proud of.”
From the Eating House menu:
- ‘Queso Frito’ smoked guava, garlic bread ‘torrejas’
- Chicken ‘Foie-ffles’ maple, candied bacon, ranch
- Short Ribs raw/burnt cauliflower, truffle, marrow
- ‘Dirt Cup’ whipped nutella, cookie crumbs, pretzel
Rapicavoli’s devil-may-care attitude — both toward critics and his refusal to stay inside the box with his recipes — is inspired by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I love him. I don’t think his art is that beautiful, but what he did, what he represented [is]. He has such a fuck-you attitude: I’m going to paint my way, do whatever I want; this is how I’m going to support myself. It’s the way I approach food. He would redo classic works of art. He said, ‘Influence is not influence — it’s simply someone else’s idea running through my new mind.’”
So what’s running through Rapicavoli’s mind for the future? A host of restaurant ideas: a traditional Italian restaurant, an Argentine meat-centric restaurant, a 12-course tasting course restaurant. You name it, Rapicavoli has probably contemplated it, with a creative twist and more than a dash of tempered spice.