It started with a meal out, and ended with a viral review and a hand-drawn picture of a horse (a tale as old as time, right?).
After a Michelin-starred restaurant was labelled “so uniquely bad, it can only be deemed an achievement”, its head chef hit back with a passionate (if not entirely confusing) rebuttal.
It involved a man on a horse, comparisons to Napoleon crossing the Alps, and philosophical questions like: “What is art? What is food? What is a chef?”
A bit lost? You’re not alone. Let’s unpack the restaurant experience that has the internet talking.
Last week, US-based travel writer and blogger Geraldine DeRuiter had dinner at Bros, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, in Italy’s southern Apulia region.
According to its owners, the restaurant is “devoted to the avant-garde” — a sentiment shared by Michelin guides, who point to its “theatrical flourish” and “clear insight into their cuisine”.
If you ask DeRuiter, however, she might describe it a little differently.
“There is something to be said about a truly disastrous meal, a meal forever indelible in your memory because it’s so uniquely bad, it can only be deemed an achievement. The sort of meal where everyone involved was definitely trying to do something; it’s just not entirely clear what.”
In a searing review that has since gone viral, DeRuiter said she and her friends were treated to a 27-course meal that spanned 4.5 hours (“Note that ‘course’ and ‘meal’ and ’27’ are being used liberally here,” she wrote).
Among the dishes served, she said, were “a tablespoon of crab”, “twelve kinds of foam” (including citrus foam served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth that they were “told to lick it out of”) and a “teaspoon of savory ice cream that was olive flavoured”.
“There is no menu at Bros. Just a blank newspaper with a QR code linking to a video featuring one of the chefs, presumably, against a black background, talking directly into the camera about things entirely unrelated to food,” she wrote.
Things get even weirder
Food aside, DeRuiter wrote, “we’d been beaten into some sort of weird psychological submission”.
One of her friends was “scolded to sit down” after attempting to leave the restaurant for a cigarette “during the lengthy stretch between courses”, she said, while another was repeatedly served food he was allergic to.
And then, when all was said and done, “someone came in and demanded we stand and exit the restaurant,” she wrote.
“Thinking we were getting kicked out, we gleefully followed. Instead, we were led across the street, to a dark doorway and into the Bros laboratory.
“A video of the shirtless kitchen staff doing extreme sports played on a large screen TV while a chef cut us comically tiny slivers of fake cheese.”
Then the head chef responded to the review
When asked for comment by US media, a representative for the restaurant responded with a “Declaration by Chef Floriano Pellegrino” that began with a simple, hand-drawn picture of a horse.
After a brief tangent involving McDonald’s and his wife’s cooking, Mr Pellegrino’s statement then pivoted to a painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps.
“The problem with this artist is that many artists have made paintings like him. I admire the quality. It’s well done,” he wrote.
“But I am bored with spectacular paintings like that. The Louvre and the Prado and the Hermitage are full with such stuff. It’s impressive, but it’s shallow.”
In the third and final image (you can see where we’re going with this …), the statement presented an abstract painting of a man riding a horse.
“Contemporary artists are looking for new horizons all the time, instead. They discover the unknown. They doubt everything including themselves, they research every boundary, they even challenge the concept ‘art’ itself,” he said.
“What is art? What if (sic) food? What is a chef? What is good taste? What looks beautiful?
… and that kicked off the memes
Now DeRuiter has responded to his response
In a follow-up blog post, the writer agreed (well, sort of).
Art should be challenging, she wrote. It should spark a reaction, cause discussions and “sometimes it’s beautiful, but not always”.
“Every meal that comes out of the kitchen at Bros is for a paying customer. It is for someone who has a minimum expectation of what a meal should be.”
If food is a type of art, she continued, “it is one that cannot exist without taking into account the relationship between the artist (the chef) and the consumer of their art (the client)”.
“Cooking, if done properly, is inherently an empathetic act. It’s an act of love.
Will the restaurant respond to her response to their response?
Who knows! But rest assured, my boss will probably ask me to write about it.