The best way to understand how the mind of Giorgio Rapicavoli works is to ask him about the genesis of one of his dishessay, his now legendary Capn Crunch pancakes. Batido de trigo, he responds in Spanish, referring to the classic wheat cereal milk shake offered at many local Latin cafeterias. I thought, why not make a batido using the Capn Crunch cereal I grew up eating? Had his answer ended right there, it would indicate youre talking to another chef, one whose mind doesnt dart around drawing inspiration from the least expected places. But it didnt, and youre not. Next, I thought: how about I charge this Capn Crunch batido with nitrous oxide and make a Capn Crunch mousse? And next: how about I freeze it with liquid nitrogen and make a Capn Crunch ice cream? Then I wondered: what are some funky breakfast things I could make? And then, he says, his voice in a crescendo, a hint hes about to bring this baby home, Turn the Capn Crunch ice cream into...pancakes!
Its that kind of thinkingcampy, experimental, self-referentialthat fuels Rapicavolis menu at Eating House, the wildly successful Coral Gables pop-up-turned-permanent restaurant where he is chef and co-owner. His bold, unapologetically inventive style has also earned him considerable national accolades: last year he was named a James Beard Rising Star semifinalist, and in 2012 he became the first Miami chef to win Food Networks Chopped competition. Still, its his 305 hometown and its unique mix of cultureshe is himself half Argentinean and half Italianthat remain his primary inspiration. And thats because his food, he says, tells his own, very personal story. Take the much written-about carbonara eggs Benedict on his weekend brunch menu. Thats my Italian heritage in there. But I also grew up in Doral, where theres a big Colombian community, and so I make calentado too. Im half Argentinean and Im also American, so theres steak and eggs on the menu, he said. Then, in a characteristic twist that helps you further understand the inner workings of the Rapicavoli mind, the 28-year-old chef cites another unlikely source of inspiration: When the artist Jean Michel Basquiat was asked about his influences he said, Influence is not influence. Its simply someones ideas going through my new mind. Thats how I see everything too.
And yet hes careful not to take himself too seriously either. Thats why when you sit down at Eating House, instead of bread we give you popcorn seasoned with Sazón Completa. A lot of chefs will say, No way, I have to grind my own spices. I think thats ridiculous. You have to have fun. Excited to see Miamis food scene finally evolve into something more local, Rapicavoli says hes aware of the role he and other indie chefs like him play. What makes a good food scene in a city isnt a big restaurant from New York coming down. Its small places like ours, he said. Places where there are people like me making food were proud of, food we believe in.
Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli will whip up his famous fried chicken at the Chicken Coupe event, from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the W South Beach.