Young chefs Floriano Pellegrino and Isabella Poti seek new paths for contemporary cuisine in the tradition of a corner of the Mediterranean.
Seeking out new routes for cookery along the paths of tradition and Instagram, with Kiss thrashing in the background, is what they are trying to do in a corner, Lecce, located in a corner of Italy, La Puglia. It is here, on the ‘heel’ of the Italian boot, that chefs Floriano Pellegrino and Isabella Poti have been operating their Bros restaurant for the last four years. They were 25 and 20 years old when they went back to their roots after stints at restaurants in London, and set to work on both their menu and their image which, Pellegrino believes, is just as essential a quality in a contemporary chef as the ingredients themselves. “What should we do in the cutting-edge country?” asked Pellegrino during the talk at the Reale Seguros Madrid Fusión Congress, ‘Identity and purity. “Take up the mindset that makes us what we are and what we want to be some day. That is our identity and that is why we came here, to the Salerno region. But why do people have to come to Lecce? It’s down to our identity.”
With no money, at a location on the map with no outlets for haute cuisine or any “stars” in the chef firmament, Poti and Pellegrino were sure of only one thing: “we had to work hard every day in a part of Italy where tradition is king, and thought does not target the future”, he recalls. “Close your eyes and work. It’s not so much a pretty dish as conveying our thoughts and believing in ourselves. And not only the dish itself, but communication too. A lot of people can’t eat at our restaurant, but they follow us on social media”. Now, with Bros operating at full capacity, and taking in dozens of students and apprentices every year, they have finally attracted visitors to this remote coastline, where they spend eight hours on average. “Our goal is for them to stay there for 24 hours, or even 36, in my region, where it’s difficult for anything new to take off”.
While Pellegrino explains their philosophy (“attitude, persistence, sacrifice and fun”), Poti is busy with a three-course menu in the Auditorium’s kitchen. First up is a starter of aged ricotta, sheep’s cheese fermented for three months, with a technique used by the grandparents. “They fermented it to preserve it”, Pellegrino explains. Sherry made from sea urchins from the Salento microclimate is added to this kind of panna cotta, and it is served in the shape of a sheep on a white plate. The second course is pasta with an acidity similar to the previous dish. The pasta is served with an emulsion of fat and a little milk. “We always serve the pasta cold along with the sauce. The coarse fat is like the coarse oil my grandmother used to eat. And if she ate that for so many years, why should I forget her way of making pasta?” This is combined with a white garlic sauce – sunflower seed oil is used to cook the garlic – and it is sprinkle-served along with three kinds of red peppers.
“The next course breaks with the acid taste”, says Pellegrino, while Poti prepares home-made brains-and-blood chorizo with pig tripe, which she describes as “rather fine, subtle and delicate” as she twists at the membrane like a sock. “The blood has pepper, salt and milk. The cow brains go in first, and then the blood as a filler”. A culinary technique that had fallen into disuse – they learned it from a neighbour, the only person who remembered it. “It’s our responsibility not to forget tradition. We can do spherifications, but we can’t do these things”, Pellegrino goes on. “All cookery schools do is teach bad cooking”. The dish is served with meat sauce, chocolate, butter and coffee, along with a small cube of banana, which goes way back. “I’m a bit wary of Km 0”, says Pellegrino. “It took us 200 years to realise that tomatoes could be eaten, and now they’re part of tradition”. He finishes up with a recommendation from his own personal recipe: be happy.