“I don’t place limits on myself. I can’t put limits on myself. I am thinking that the next step has to be autarky,” says Floriano Pellegrino who was born in 1990. He is a chef and partner (along with his companion and sous chef Isabella Potì) in the Bros’ restaurant in Lecce, Italy.
They began with an initial investment of 200,000 euros, and he and his team absolutely took off. In the last two years, the restaurant has captured the attention of gourmands as well as the international media.
At age 18, while working for Ilario Vinciguerra, Pellegrino won the award for best commisat the Bocuse d’Or. He has learned from some of the greats in high-end restaurants around the world: Martin Berasategui (his true mentor), Luis Andoni Aduriz, Eneko Atxa, Alexandre Gauthier, Rene Redzepi and Claude Bosi.
In 2017, MAG named Pellegrino one of the top 10 rising stars in Italian cuisine. Forbes first included Isabella Potì (who is also in charge of the pastry area at Bros’) as one of the top 100 talents under 30 in Europe while Pellegrino later earned a spot on the list as well.
In fewer than three years, Bros’ has become a key player on the Italian fine-dining scene, but it can also serve as a case study for anyone interested in understanding what is needed today to stand out on the ever more crowded high-end restaurant scene. This is perhaps thanks to the business approach of chef Pellegrino and his team. “With our cuisine,” the chef from Scorrano tells MAG, “We want to offer substance, push the envelope. Bring the south to center stage.”
Bros’ has now been around for three years. “It won’t be long before we are celebrating our first five years in business,” says Pellegrino. “It is time to plan for the next chapter of this story. I like to think in terms of cycles.” And apparently, the second part of this five-year plan is to look to the countryside of Salento where Pellegrino was born and raised. “My family owned a farm and an agriturismo. I’ve been at the stove since I was born.”
What exactly does he have in mind? “I can’t give anything away now, but I would like to have a large self-sufficient farm. Not a place closed to outsiders, but a sort of gathering place for all of the excellent products our area has to offer. Where we can produce high-quality ingredients and include other producers and suppliers in the area.” This would be a sort of food-and-wine hub with Pellegrino’s stamp on it.
Chef Floriano is a man of the times. A millennial, as he often says. He has no sense of limitations. He thinks like a businessperson as well as a chef. “One of my teachers, Martin Berasategui, once told me that to succeed in this business, I need to choose a flag and let it fly.” And for Pellegrino, of course, his flag waves for Salento. “We could have opened our restaurant in London of course, but we wouldn’t have been as happy. And here, we have everything in this fantastic place. Oil, wine, fish, vegetables, cheese.” When Pellegrino left home as a teenager to train in the best restaurants in Italy and Europe, he had every intention of returning here to make a change.
The self-sufficient farm he has planned will be a place where people can eat and perhaps even sleep. The idea is certainly to diversify. But ,for the moment, Bros’ is the only business he has. There is certainly a great deal of potential for developing his ideas.
The same could be said for the potential for business development. With that in mind, in order to “take the south center stage,” in other words to put Lecce on the map in the culinary world, Bros’ came up with the idea of holding “impossible dinners.” These are true gourmet events that periodically bring internationally renowned chefs to the kitchens in Lecce’s Via Acaja.
Some of the chefs to have participated include Antonio Arcieri, Davide Garavaglia, Syrco Bakker and, of course, Berasategui.
Visibility is another fundamental element.
This is why Pellegrino, Potì and the rest of the team aren’t afraid to use social media or create videos that tell the story of their project. They have a certain rock-and-roll flair. Their videos tell the story of a generation (all members of the team—in both the front and back of the house—were born between 1990 and 2000), the region where they live and the mood of their cuisine. “Being on social media,” says Pellegrino, “gets us closer to the rest of the world. We are in Lecce, not New York or Milan. People have to come here specifically for us. So these tools are naturally in our blood. They are part of us so why not use them?” He admits that, “We have fun being rebels.” And this goes as much for the cuisine as it does for their image.
All of the work that the chef and his team are doing on what they call their “tasting background” represents this approach perfectly. “We are working with tastes that are rancid, bitter, acidic, fermented and salty.” This leads to unique dishes like linguini with garum and pistachio or strong ricotta paired with sea urchin.
There seems to be a desire to focus on getting to the essence, with something of a scientific approach. “Our menus are seasonal. Every change is prepared months in advance. Everything is studied in painstaking detail, and then standardized. There is no margin for error. We photograph the result and know how it is supposed to be. We dedicate a bit of time to research every day.”
The objective is always the same. That ambition. That desire to be at the center of things even though they are in the heel of the “boot” that is Italy. A place the highway doesn’t reach. Where the nearest airport is 45 kilometers away.
“I always say this, but why do people come here to eat at our restaurant? And the answer is that here they want to find something unique.”
So are there any limits to all of this? No, none.