Brussels. The capital of Belgium and Europe, it’s the place where cultures meet and where creativity has no boundaries. Where else could chef Giovanni Bruno have started a restaurant like Senzanome, where the Italian cuisine is lifted to the highest level. His reinterpretation of Italian classics is focused around honest top quality produce in a simple and refined presentation. It’s all about the details, but everything starts from the basics.
Restaurant Senzanome is located in the heart of Brussels at the Place du Sablon. The vibrant city atmosphere is perfectly balanced with the relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant. The interior design is contemporary stylish and we’ll see later on how this perfectly matches the food that is served at Senzanome.
Together with S.Pellegrino we’d like to tell you the Hungry Chef story of chef Giovanni Bruno. Why did he become a chef, why is he doing what he’s doing and where does he find the inspiration and courage to keep on going day after day? All questions Giovanni Bruno is happy to answer in a personal conversation with Hungry for More.
Hungry for More: Thanks for having us here today, mister Bruno. Can you tell us a little history. How did things get started here for you at Senzanome?
Giovanni Bruno: Well, we’ve been in the business for many years now. At the previous location of the restaurant we had been working for nearly 25 years. Then it was time for a change, so we moved to this really nice location at the Place du Sablon. We’ve got more space here, but we chose not to increase the number of seats in order to improve our professionalism and the level of comfort and convenience for the guests. All that time I’ve been running the restaurant together with my sister Nadia. And in fact we even didn’t move that much, as both locations are just a mile or so away. However not all clients followed us to the new restaurant, but it’s normal to attract some new and to lose some others.
In the meantime we’ve also opened a second restaurant, which is a bit more accessible and laid-back. It’s a kind of Osteria where you can have food that just tastes delicious, but it’s different from fine dining.
Hungry for More: As you just mentioned, Senzanome is a family business. Do you consider that a blessing or a curse?
Giovanni Bruno: Working with family members is easy and difficult at the same time. But overall, I’d say there are many advantages. You can be honest, you know each other very well and you’ve shared many experiences and important moments in life.
Hungry for More: How would you describe your own cooking style?
Giovanni Bruno: My cuisine isn’t classic Italian. I’d rather call it an innovative and creative reinterpretation of the heritage and the traditions you can find in Italy. What many people don’t know is that the north and the south of Italy are completely different when it comes to local produce and cooking techniques. And yet, it was my mission to look for a harmonious way to combine the beauty and strength of both regions. Nevertheless, one cannot please everyone. So maybe some people aren’t a big fan of the combinations I present, but it is what it is.
What really bothers me is the fact that the Italian cuisine has been trivialised, because of its omnipresence. Wherever you are, there always seems to be an Italian restaurant around the corner. As a result Italian food has been perceived as cheap and overly simple. Most people don’t know much more than pasta and pizza, which of course does not reflect the richness and sophistication of the Italian cuisine. That’s the downside, but what’s certainly positive is the fact that almost everyone loves Italian food. All that said, it’s clearly challenging and rather difficult to lift the Italian cuisine to the level of gastronomy.
I really love working with top quality Italian products. Mozzarella for example can only be real mozzarella because of its heritage, but just as much thanks to the way it is produced and the location where it is prepared. That’s how it gets the real taste, one cannot fake or reproduce. I find it therefore impossible to translate the names of Italian products. Let’s say Parmigiano should be called Parmigiano and not parmesan cheese, as the latter indicates to me it could be industrially made, which is shocking to me. It’s simple not the same thing anymore then. But as you’ll see, eating at Senzanome is more than just eating Italian food. It’s about the creation of a fine dining experience, and it’s logical that you’ll feel my roots and heritage in my inspiration.
Hungry for More: Have you always dreamed of being a chef?
Giovanni Bruno: Actually not. I’ve had other dreams and ambitions. The fact that I became a chef had to do with the circumstances when I grew up. I came to Belgium when I was 16 years old. My parents started a restaurant and back then it was normal that the kids would join the family business. So I started cooking and I got passionate about the job. It encouraged me to keep on pushing myself and aim for the very best.
Hungry for More: You are one of the ambassadors of S.Pellegrino. Can you explain us a bit more about this collaboration?
Giovanni Bruno: I’m one of the chef ambassadors, because I really like the dynamic character of the S.Pellegrino brand. They’ve been smart enough to realise they had to develop their gastronomic image outside of Italy as well. It’s an approach that supports the chefs in developing their own style, by expressing their skills and creativity. And everything they do has to be top quality, so that’s of course something I can relate to.
Hungry for More: Where do you keep on finding your inspiration?
Giovanni Bruno: It all starts from the richness of the season. Which products are of the highest quality at a certain moment or in a certain place. I see what the seasons have to offer and the inspiration just comes and finds me. I can get inspired when I’m doing my shopping, when I’m driving the car or when I just have to get from A to B. So it’s not so that I get inspired in my kitchen when I’m cooking. In your kitchen you start working from that inspiration to develop the idea into the perfect dish. Then you’re in the process of refining ingredients, combinations and techniques.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I got the idea to make the perfect tomato with mozzarella. Well, anyone can make tomatoes and mozzarella, but what can I do to make it truly perfect and unique? How can I get the best out of the tomatoes and the basil? So then I get to work and experiment with certain cooking techniques and textures. The result is a dish in which I use the burrata to create an emulsion that then becomes the base for the recreation of a ball which is so typical for mozzarella. But the difference is that I use the part of the cheese that has the very best taste. Then I use the basil to make a kind of olive oil, and I finish the dish with a tomato sorbet, so you have the different textures and temperatures. So what I just love to do, is to start from a traditional or basic recipe, to reinterpret it to make my best possible version out of it. The same goes for ravioli by the way. It’s not just a kind of pasta that is easy to cook. It has to be boiled perfectly not too hard, not too soft – and the filling should match the type of pasta. You cannot put just anything inside of ravioli. When it comes to fish and meat, it’s also essential to have it cooked the best way possible. And when the cuisson is perfect, then you’ll truly taste the difference between mediocre and top quality ingredients.
And what’s also essential to me, is the fact that my cuisine is intrinsically gourmand. These days you get many requests of people who are on a diet or who don’t want this or that ingredient. It’s really hard to take it all into account, as the style of our cuisine is quite rich and royal. I want to create an experience that is typically me, it has to represent my philosophy.
Hungry for More: What are your further plans, dreams and ambitions?
Giovanni Bruno: I’ve got some years to go before I retire, but that’s just fine since I really like what I do. So I’m happy to keep on going as long as I still can. And if I’d do something else, it might be a little bistro, a place where I can cook and that is easy to manage. And for the rest we’ll need to count on the younger generation, although I’ve noticed that they can be disappointed when they see how much administration it takes to run a restaurant and that it’s not only about cooking.
Hungry for More: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Giovanni Bruno: Whatever you do, the feedback of the guests is the most important thing when you run a restaurant. People that say they had a wonderful experience and when you can see you’ve made them truly happy, it gives you so much satisfaction. People and their mentality changes over time. You have to be up-to-date and follow the new trends, without losing your own style. People will always eat, but eating is such a broad term. It can be street food or gastronomy, or so much in between.
We’ve got great guests here at Senzanome. But we also need to think trough the fact that people have to save to come and enjoy a culinary experience at our restaurant. So in gastronomy everything has to be perfect, but taste comes first. Show and fun can be nice, but your cuisine cannot be focused on that. Guests have to remember what they’ve eaten, and of course it has to be visually attractive as well. Your level has to be top each and every day. No matter if a food critic would come one day or another, it has to be good for the guests as well.
Small is beautiful. We enjoy working in a small team and being independent, without big investors etc. On the other hand that means you have to cope with problems as well. Every day is full of surprises, mostly positive, but some inevitable negative or difficult. It’s a hard job. When others are having fun, people in the horeca have to work. But it’s worth it thanks to the satisfaction you get from your guests and fellow chefs.
Hungry for More: Thank you very much for your time and openness. Wishing you the very best for the coming time. And we’re very eager to discover your culinary creations.
Tasting menu at Senzanome
“The menu changes with the seasons, even if this mean some dishes are on the menu for only a very short period of time. We can only serve the food when it’s at its very best.”, says chef Giovanni Bruno.
Amuses: Mousse of Mortadella and pistachio / Small Neapolitan pizza with tomato and mozzarella / Eggplant caviar and pinenuts, olive oil and red wine vinegar / Watermelon, tomato gel and smoked herring caviar.
Tartare of gambero rosso, potatoes, cream, herring caviar and lemon paste from Sicily.
Tuna Sashimi, bottarga, lime, emulsion of balsamic vinegar, mustard and olive oil.
‘The perfect egg’ cooked at 63° C., espuma of parmeggiano, mushrooms and pancetta.
Langoustine, grappa sauce and oriental herbs. This dish is a reinterpretation of a recipe of the chef’s father. He used to prepare it with whiskey, whereas Giovanni Bruno uses grappa for the finishing touch.
Fettucini, ceps and espuma of Grana Padano.
Fettucuini and white truffle.
Straccetti, doppio burro and cime di rape.
Saltimbocca of seabass.
Faraona (Guinea Fowl), filled with mortadella and pistachio with gravy made with marsala and ginger.
Pre dessert: brioche and granite of Montalcino grapes.
Tiramisu a modo mio (by the chef)
Chef Giovanni Bruno of restaurant Senzanome in Brussels presents a creative and unique reinterpretation of Italian gastronomy. The atmosphere is relaxed, the service is warm and friendy, and the food is refined and simply delicious.
Restaurant Senzanome, Kleine Zavel 1, 1000 Brussel, Belgium | firstname.lastname@example.org | +32 2 223 16 17 | www.senzanome.be | Senzanome on Facebook | Chef Giovanni Bruno on Instagram | Restaurant Senzanome on Instagram