The best way to understand how the mind of Giorgio Rapicavoli works is to ask him about the genesis of one of his dishes—say, his now legendary Cap’n 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 Cap’n Crunch cereal I grew up eating?” Had his answer ended right there, it would indicate you’re talking to another chef, one whose mind doesn’t dart around drawing inspiration from the least expected places. But it didn’t, and you’re not. “Next, I thought: how about I charge this Cap’n Crunch batido with nitrous oxide and make a Cap’n Crunch mousse? And next: how about I freeze it with liquid nitrogen and make a Cap’n 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 he’s about to bring this baby home, “Turn the Cap’n Crunch ice cream into...pancakes!”
It’s that kind of thinking—campy, experimental, self-referential—that fuels Rapicavoli’s 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 Network’s Chopped competition. Still, it’s his 305 hometown and its unique mix of cultures—he is himself half Argentinean and half Italian—that remain his primary inspiration. And that’s because his food, he says, tells his own, very personal story. Take the much written-about carbonara eggs Benedict on his weekend brunch menu. “That’s my Italian heritage in there. But I also grew up in Doral, where there’s a big Colombian community, and so I make calentado too. I’m half Argentinean and I’m also American, so there’s 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. It’s simply someone’s ideas going through my new mind.’ That’s how I see everything too.”
And yet he’s careful not to take himself too seriously either. That’s 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 that’s ridiculous. You have to have fun.” Excited to see Miami’s food scene finally evolve into something more local, Rapicavoli says he’s aware of the role he and other indie chefs like him play. “What makes a good food scene in a city isn’t a big restaurant from New York coming down. It’s small places like ours,” he said. “Places where there are people like me making food we’re 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.