The Most Interesting Man in the World does not pitch beer in television commercials.
He lives in Highland Park and owns Miramar Bistro in Highwood. Gabriel Viti is his name, and if there’s an adventure to enjoy and conquer, the 53-year-old is all in.
“It all started when I was with my chiropractor one day, and I noticed a patch on his neck,” recalls Viti, a 1981 graduate of Highland Park High School, where he wrestled and played football and tennis. “I was 39. I asked him, ‘Why the patch?’ He said to me, ‘I competed in a triathlon.’
“Then I asked him, ‘Were you in a fight with three guys?’ ”
Our lunch of French onion soup and bread at Miramar is off to a rousing start. An early-afternoon meal/interview — for 30 minutes — was his only opening on this day in late February. I consider myself lucky, because Viti plans to fly to Florida the next day to start his next adventure: sailing around the world with his girlfriend, Angela, and a couple that taught him how to sail an Island Packet 485. He figures to complete the challenge in four years, but it won’t be a nonstop quest.
Viti intends to return home a handful of times each year to spend time with his family and tend to his philanthropic causes.
“I hired a coach to get me ready for my first triathlon,” adds the graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in New York and the father of two sons — 26-year-old Gabriel III, a former dirt bike racer and Junior Olympics skier, and 19-year-old Tempel, a college rugby player.
His first triathlon led to his first Ironman, which preceded his successful swim across the English Channel in 2014. A stretch of training for the grueling channel test involved 36,000 yards per week in a pool and other watery drills in the Tampa Bay area.
After reading Into Thin Air, a book by Jon Krakauer about an account of a Mount Everest disaster, Viti looked up. Way up. He ended up becoming the 335th person to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent in the world.
What he also raised, in addition to his game body and soul: funds — more than $200,000 for Keshet, an organization committed to developing programs for children and young adults with special needs.
The man also loves to ski down hills, ride dirt bikes and scuba-dive.
“Years and years ago, I was asked to cook in Lake Forest, and a man, Jack Smart, told me something that changed my life,” says Viti, who cooked for the top three restaurants in Europe following his graduation from culinary school. “Jack told me, ‘Always keep your learning curve turned up.’ What that said to me was, ‘Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.’ ”
Destinations along his sailing venture include Cuba, Jamaica, Bonaire, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Australia, the Canary Islands, Israel, Turkey, Croatia, Spain, Italy, France, Scotland and Ireland. Some time in August or September — right around the time he’ll be near Australia — Gabriel and Angela will fly to Japan and stay there for a month. It’s where they climbed Mount Fuji (elevation of 12,000-plus feet) together three years ago.
Forty-eight years ago, a 5-year-old Gabriel Viti stood in front of the Washington Gardens restaurant in Highwood with his father, also named Gabriel, currently chairman of the board of the Viti Companies (insurance and financial) in Highwood.
“It was then,” the son recalls, “when I knew I wanted to work in the restaurant industry. Years later, during an interview, I was asked, ‘Why do you want to be a chef?’ I like taking care of the customer; you get an immediate response from the customer when you’re working in a restaurant. You know what’s great about Miramar and the crew we have? I can leave for a period of time, come back and find out it’s still running like a Swiss watch; that’s one of the many rewards of running this place. And our clientele is well-educated, well-traveled, successful and loyal.”
For 15 years, Viti has supported the Boys & Girls Club of Lake County in North Chicago and Waukegan. Each Christmastime, youngsters from the organization that believes every child has the potential to BE GREAT travel to Northbrook Court to meet Viti.
Viti’s friendly order to the kids: “Shop around and buy whatever you want.”
They later load up on popcorn and watch a movie.
“North Chicago and Waukegan … I consider those areas my areas,” Viti says. “Everybody around here should. These are kids, good kids. That’s Christmas to me — spending time with them and seeing their excitement.”
I nod. The Most Interesting Man in the World is also a caring man, a down-to-earth man.
I have one more question about his adventurous side:
Viti cups his right hand slightly and thrusts it above his head.
“Flying,” he says, as his eyes turn steely. “I want to fly.
“I’m on my way to getting a pilot’s license.”
I turn into The Least Surprised Man in the World.