Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli is Miami’s first Chopped winner and one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30.” At the tender age of 28, he has already fashioned an impressive career in the culinary world. When it comes to style, Rapicavoli is anything but typical—you won’t catch him wearing chef whites and crocs at either of his restaurants. Instead, he runs his kitchen floor and front of house while sporting printed aprons, his signature SEE glasses, and one of his 200-plus pairs of kicks. We sat down with Rapicavoli to learn his secrets to looking (and smelling) good, and the things that inspire him. Without a doubt, this young chef makes cooking look fly.
To start off, tell us about your journey.
I’m the chef and owner of two small restaurants in Miami, Eating House and Taperia Raca. I started cooking at the age of 14, but my first legit cooking job was at a contemporary Latin restaurant called Chispa, where I went from pastry chef to Chef de cuisine. When I was 26, the Food Network contacted me to compete on Chopped. Being the first Miami winner, and all the momentum, is what led me to realize that I had to break away and go off on my own. I was working at this boutique hotel on South Beach at the time called 660, so I quit and took the leap to open up Eating House with my boy Alex Casanova. What was supposed to be six months turned into a permanent venture thanks to the incredible response we got from the city.
How does the city of Miami play a role in all this?
My city is the reason I have my job, and it allows my job to flourish in a sense that Miami is the most influential thing in my style of cooking and my flavors. You can get whatever you want in this city. You may have to travel for it a bit, but you can get anything.
Your alarm goes off in the morning. What’s the first thing you do?
I don’t really set an alarm. I usually get home at midnight or 1 a.m. after wrapping up at the restaurant and going for a run, so I usually get up around 10 a.m. I usually always start my days with a little baking. Then I go for a swim or do a training session in the morning.
Are you training for anything in particular or just to keep yourself in shape?
I am completing my second triathlon, Escape to Miami. I did it last year and it was really cool to set a goal and complete it.
Chefs are constantly around food and grease. The possibility of getting messy and dirty is an integral part of your job. What do you do to stay fresh and clean?
Something that I always use a lot of is powder. Borotalco is this Italian powder that smells like flowers. I stock up every time I go to Italy. That’s how I stay fresh. It’s a great smell. That’s important.
For someone who cooks for a living, sense of smell is an integral part of what you do. How does that crossover to how you present yourself?
The most important thing for me is to leave the house smelling good. I’m really into vetiver. It’s a grass that either grows in Haiti or India. A very classic scent for perfumeries, you find it blended with a lot of things. I’m wearing it right now. A lot of people don’t know about vetiver, but that’s what I’m here for. My cologne game is serious.
You have a pretty peculiar look for a chef. Tell us about not looking and dressing the typical part, and how you think that’s contributed to your success.
Being in a restaurant, standing in front of a 100 people a night, I have people looking at me for hours, and they would never want to come back to a restaurant where the chef doesn’t carry himself well. So I always make sure my clothes are ironed and nails manicured. I think staying true to ourselves at the restaurant has made us successful. We don’t conform to anyone’s standards because we set the highest standards we could for ourselves.
What are your essentials?
Socks. I probably have like 50 pairs.
What about essentials in the restaurant?
Aprons. I get them from this company called Medium Rare out of Canada. They’re dope ‘cause they have leather straps and are really beautifully constructed out of denim. They are like another style piece. Certain aprons go with certain shirts. I’ve got around six or seven. I even have an apron that I designed myself, which I had someone custom make for me. It’s olive green with some really cool pockets and accent stitching.
Looks like your tattoos are also an important part of your style, and say a lot about who you are as a chef. What can you tell us about them?
I love tattoos. They’re daily reminders of different things. I have four total and I’m getting my fifth after my triathlon—it’s going to be an outline of Florida on my inner arm. In Italy, my boys and I got matching tattoos that say “Good, Clean, and Fair” in Italian. It’s the motto of slow food.
What’s your favorite trend in food and style?
Favorite food trend right now is vinegar making. I’ve always loved vinegar and I make all my own vinegars at the restaurant. I really like to make vinegars that tie-in culturally, like with guava and other ingredients that are representative of Miami. Favorite style trend is how it’s now acceptable for guys to wear sweatpants anywhere. To dinner, with a T-shirt, with sneakers—I love it. It’s super comfortable, especially since I do a lot of traveling, so I can just pair it with a nice jacket and it looks straight.
What do you do to stay well-groomed daily, and why is it important to you?
My dad instilled it in me from an early age to always look presentable when I left the house, so I definitely got it from him. This, right now, is my leisurely look [sweatpants]. I love clothes. The way I come up with dishes I feel like people come up with clothes. It’s an art and I appreciate that.
What inspires you?
Miami inspires me the most out of everything, from the flavors of the city to even the art and the architecture. There’s way more than just South Beach. If I could, I would stay on the mainland at all times.
What is your favorite item that you own?
It’s a bracelet that my uncle gave to me. I remember that he was wearing it and I loved it, and the next day I showed up at home and it was there. I was 18 and that was the last time I took it off my wrist.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
You know what my number one is…powder. (Laughs) Days at work without talcum are not a good day at work. Sure, I could be more comfortable in the kitchen wearing a chef coat and chef pants, but that’s not me. If I’m gonna be in the kitchen wearing skinny jeans and rubbing my legs together, you gotta set yourself up, and powder is the way to do it.
What’s the one thing related to style that you couldn’t live without?
Sneakers, man. I can’t live without my sneakers. That’s what I think says the most about me. Today I wore these leopard shoes to lunch, and that was my main piece. A good watch is so important, too. Save yourself the money on some rims and get yourself a watch.
How do you stay sharp, and what does living sharp mean to you?
A man who looks sharp exudes confidence. If a man is worried enough to look presentable when he leaves the house then he’s concerned with other things, too.