Most chefs would be thrilled merely to visit the great European kitchens in which Gabriel Viti has cooked: those of Joel Robuchon in Paris, Fredy Girardet in Switzerland, Michael Guerard in Southwestern France, not to mention Taillevent in Paris and San Domenico of Imola in Italy. In the U.S., this Highwood, IL, native, a Food and Wine Best New Chef in 1991, was executive chef at Carlos' Restaurant in Highwood and for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. in Chicago before opening his own place, the Italian standout Gabriel's, in his hometown in 1993. Three years ago, he branched out by opening French-Cuban themed Miramar and, one year later, Gabe's Backstage Lounge, both in Highwood. He resides in Highland Park, IL.
You're really stocked up on healthful ingredients in your fridge. Who cooks them?
Usually, it's me. It's different on Sunday and Monday, when my two boys are here. We go to the store and buy ingredients together, bring them back and then lay all of them out on the table you see here.
What's the purpose of that big display?
I take a picture of the ingredients first, then the three of us prepare the meal together. The finished items go onto platters and we arrange them back on the same table. I take another picture, then we eat. The boys — they're 17 and 10 — get great experience and training, and it's just a neat day for the family.
Your three restaurants must keep you busy the rest of the week.
Of course. So does my training.
Got a big event planned?
My focus now is climbing the Seven Summits — the highest mountain peaks on all seven continents. First up is Mt. Everest in the spring of 2009.
How do you prepare for that?
Two ways: physical training and altitude training.
Tell us about the physical training.
It's similar to that of any endurance sport. I keep in good enough shape to complete a full Ironman triathalon — I did one in Brazil last spring. And I made it through the ultra-hot Chicago Marathon last fall.
How do you train for high altitude in Illinois?
You've got to travel. Training began last fall with a three-week climb in Ecuador. The highest summit was 19,500 feet. The plan for this summer is to climb in Europe: Mont Blanc, the Eiger and the Matterhorn.
What attracted you to these outdoor adventures?
It started four years ago. I got into it after being buried in the kitchen for so many years. Those European jobs — those were always 18-hour days.
Running three restaurants is a huge time commitment, too. How do you squeeze everything in?
Gabriel's opened 15 years ago and we've been able to retain a core group of staff for 13-plus years. I'm there every night. I check on the other two restaurants during the day; we've got great staff there, too.
Anything else on your calendar before Everest?
I'm taking my boys to the Galapagos next. It's a 10-day trip. And I'm running in the Great Wall of China marathon on May 17. That's a long-time dream.
Good luck in China. And let us know when you make it to the top of Everest — and the other summits, too.