How Chef Fabio Viviani’s The Marketplace at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa creates a journey of flavors

View Original Notice ? How Chef Fabio Viviani’s The Marketplace at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa creates a journey of flavors

Amid the pandemic, Richard St. Jean, chief executive officer of Morongo and former “Top Chef” contestant Fabio Viviani had a 40-minute phone call about what would replace buffets post-pandemic. After brainstorming, they decided to create a space that houses a journey of flavors from around the world.

The Marketplace by Fabio Viviani at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa will officially replace the Potrero Canyon Buffet with its new food hall concept on Wednesday, May 4. The new restaurant, which seats up to 380 guests, will allow diners to choose from dishes that draw inspiration from Asia, South America, and roadside restaurants found along the highways in the Southern U.S.

The new concept marks the fourth new restaurant the casino has opened within the last couple of years, including  Mozen, Good Times Café and Pink Coffee.

Some buffets have shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, while others have reopened or have been replaced entirely. The Marketplace is unique in that it is the first to replace a buffet space with a celebrity kitchen concept at a Southern California casino.

Viviani said he’s had experience managing standalone restaurants, but he hasn’t had the same space and freedom he did with The Marketplace.

“I thought, ‘Shall we do one or two different stations, or how about eight since we have the space,’” Viviani said.

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Although The Marketplace isn’t exactly a buffet, it still has some of the same spirit. It lets customers pick and choose from various dishes and charges guests an entrance fee. St. Jean said the restaurant is more focused on the quality of the food rather than the quantity.

His inspiration came from other food halls, such as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Foodlife in Chicago and Liberty Station in San Diego. When St. Jean told the chef about the space, Viviani started drawing up concepts on pieces of paper that would strike a balance between fans of traditional buffets and sit-down restaurants.

“I still believe that the buffet idea is still alive and well in the gaming facility,” Viviani said. “There is a large crowd of people who like the idea of paying one price and getting anything they want but there are also people who wouldn’t touch a buffet.”

Part of the core concept for The Marketplace was creating a journey for customers to experience and that journey begins with its layout.

  • Chef Fabio Viviani in front of his new restaurant Pescato...

    Chef Fabio Viviani in front of his new restaurant Pescato at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. The seafood restaurant is located at the entrance of The Marketplace which will open Wednesday, May 4. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • A lobster pan roast (not yet printed on the menu)...

    A lobster pan roast (not yet printed on the menu) at the restaurant Pescato by Chef Fabio Viviani, at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • From the Kettle Signatures a bowl of Shrimp Scampi, which...

    From the Kettle Signatures a bowl of Shrimp Scampi, which consists of Mexican Shrimp, Fettuccine Pasta, Cherry tomatoes, basil, in a garlic butter sauce at restaurant Pescato, by Chef Fabio Viviani, at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • From the Kettle Signatures a bowl of Gumbo, a Creole...

    From the Kettle Signatures a bowl of Gumbo, a Creole stew cooked with Andouille sausage, okra, Cajun chicken, Mexican Gulf shrimp, crab cluster, with Jasmine rice, at restaurant Pescato, by Chef Fabio Viviani, at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • A chilled seafood tower, which consists of whole Maine lobster,...

    A chilled seafood tower, which consists of whole Maine lobster, Mexican shrimp, Littleneck clams, seasonal oysters, New Zealand mussels, tuna & yellowtail sashimi, wakame salad, jalapeno mignonette, horseradish and cocktail sauce, at the restaurant Pescato by Chef Fabio Viviani, at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • Chef Fabio Viviani in front of his The Marketplace, a...

    Chef Fabio Viviani in front of his The Marketplace, a food hall and several gourmet stations, at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, on Friday, April 1, 2022. The Marketplace will open Wednesday, May 4. (Photo by Alex Gallardo, Contributing Photographer)

  • Pork & Waffles is one of seven eatery options at...

    Pork & Waffles is one of seven eatery options at The Marketplace by Fabio Viviani at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The new restaurant is set to open on Wednesday, May 4. (Courtesy Morongo Casino Resort & Spa)

  • Sweet Things is one of seven eatery options at The...

    Sweet Things is one of seven eatery options at The Marketplace by Fabio Viviani at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The new restaurant is set to open on Wednesday, May 4. (Courtesy Morongo Casino Resort & Spa)

  • This photo shows tables and seats at The Marketplace by...

    This photo shows tables and seats at The Marketplace by Fabio Viviani at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The new restaurant is set to open on Wednesday, May 4. (Courtesy Morongo Casino Resort & Spa)

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Viviani and St. Jean said Pescato, the seafood restaurant located at The Marketplace entrance, serves as the hook for people who may not be sold on a sit-down restaurant experience but are curious.

“With the placement, you can’t avoid looking inside, and once you see it, hopefully, you’ll be more open to coming in,” Viviani said.

As customers make their way into The Marketplace, they can choose from six additional eateries inspired by food from around the world. Some of the choices include Pork & Waffles (BBQ and Southern comfort food), Sukiru (Pan-Asian), Prime Cuts (part steakhouse and part Brazilian Churrascaria) and Sweet Things (desserts).

Mercato Centrale focuses on Italian cuisine and offers foods such as pizza, meatballs, arancini, pressed paninis and a hand-crafted pasta station. The Al Comal stall is a mix of Mexican and South American food that serves handmade tortillas, tacos, pork and tamales.

Viviani said that the inspiration for creating a variety of eateries represents America’s melting pot of cultures and allows those who may not always have access to those little back alley places to pull up a seat at the table.

“If you look at the crowd at Morongo, the crowd is a mix of Italian, Asian, Latin American, and classic American,” Viviani said. “The idea here is to please as much of the crowd as possible with quality food, and chances are they’ll find something they like.”

To adequately produce the different dishes at The Marketplace, the kitchen requires a combination of ingredients that are both local and imported from around the world.

“Some are sourced locally because we want to support the local distributors, but some of the cheeses are ordered from Italy and so are the other things that America doesn’t provide,” Viviani said.

With plant-based and vegan food options becoming more popularized, The Marketplace also offers a variety of meatless options across its eateries.

“We don’t have a station dedicated solely to plant-based food, but several items per station have a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes,” Viviani said. “We figured out that if you hide the stars among other menu items, you provide a variety of different flavor profiles everyone will try within that.”

Whether a guest is choosing a plant-based option or any of the other dishes offered at the seven different eateries, Viviani said that’s satisfying enough.

“I don’t have the perfect customer because the perfect customer doesn’t exist,” Viviani said. “If you’re hungry, you’re my kind of guy.”