On December 8, the Everywhereist’s Geraldine DeRuiter published a blog about a seemingly-excruciating meal at Bros’, a one Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, Italy, helmed by Italian chefs Floriano Pellegrino and Isabella Potì. Now, Pellegrino has issued an exhausting response about art, revolution, and being on the culinary cutting edge.
In her review, DeRuiter detailed a four-plus-hour, 27-course dinner in which, she says, “there was nothing even close to an actual meal served.” Among the dishes described were edible paper, glasses of vinegar, rancid ricotta, and —as the most grotesquely fascinating example — a mold of chef Pellegrino’s mouth, filled with a citrus “limoniamo” foam that guests were told to lick out.
Michelin-starred chefs, as our very own Jaya Saxena pointed out yesterday, seem to have developed a weird thing for incorporating smooches into their dishes. And, other than the general unpleasantness of most people’s mouths, why shouldn’t they? Who says a plaster mouth can’t be a dining vessel? Who says a french kiss can’t be a dish? What even is a dish, like on a philosophical level? What is cuisine?
Responding to DeRuiter’s review going viral, Pellegrino poses those very questions. In a three-page letter (three. pages.) to Today, titled the “Declaration by Chef Floriano Pellegrino,” the chef ponders what differentiates a technician from an artist, writing, “Being able to draw a man on a horse does not make you an artist. The result of your talent might be beautiful to look at, but it is not art. Drawing a man on a horse is the same as making food.”
He goes onto say that anyone — even your grandma, even his wife, even McDonald’s — can make food that tastes good. But a great chef, like a great artist, devotes their life to technique, to learning the rules so they know exactly how to break them.
His declaration (which you can read in full, as he requested, at Today) continues:
Contemporary art is not easy. The contemporary artist asks you to think about beauty, to doubt yourself, to trust his creative process, to follow his ideas. That is how revolutions are born.
Here at Bros’ we strive everyday for avant-garde.
We have undertaken this risk since we decided to return to our territory, after international experiences. We invest to revolutionize it and make it grow with us.
While making lengthy claims to his originality, both on the page and in his creative thinking, Pellegrino finds himself on well-trodden ground. The top half of the letter reads like Ferran Adria’s notes on culinary theory. And that bit about the horse? It might sound familiar because it repeats basically anything said by or about Pablo Picasso. As an abstract artist and surrealist, Picasso had plenty to say about why his own work — different from the classical styles taught in schools — counted as high art. As the quote often attributed to him goes, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
It’s true that food can be art and art can impact change. The difference, however, is that you cannot — or should not — eat a painting or sculpture, no matter how much it breaks the rules of traditional non-edible technique. It’s debatable that art breeds revolution, but one thing that certainly does? Hunger! It’s lucky for Bros’ then that the types of people who can afford trips to Lecce and joke about $150-225 meals in over-heated cement rooms will likely not be leading any kind of uprising. The people leading the revolution, rather, will probably grow up fed by grandmothers, spouses, or — I don’t know — even McDonald’s.
Whether or not Pellegrino’s food is revolutionizing the way people eat is to be determined, but what is immediately true is that he has revolutionized the passive-aggressive letter sign-off in a way that we can all learn from. Addressing DeRuiter in the final lines of his declaration, the chef writes, “We thank Mrs. XXX — I don’t remember her name — for making us get to where we had not arrived. We are out of stock of ‘Limoniamo,’ thank you very much.”
If you decide to deploy such pettiness in your own missives, proceed with caution. Anyone can copy technique, but it takes something special to be an artist.