Fried eggs and books. It sounds weird but when I think of my cousin (full disclosure), Gerardo Bruno, those two things come to mind. Before Life got too busy, my family was always all together. Imagine, what felt like, 50 people going in and out of a house filled with food and laughter. And some very loud talking; but we are Italian, forgive us. Gerardo and his siblings would always be at my house and we would always be at theirs. Everyone had their own personality but Gerardo’s stuck out quite a bit. Sure, he laughed and had fun but it always had to turn to something important and more serious.
I vividly remember him carefully eating fried eggs my mother made him at the kitchen table and cutting through the yolk and letting it run elegantly across the plate. I noticed even his silverware approach was careful and meticulous. After eating, he got a book and read me stories. I loved it but I saw the other kids playing and would get distracted. Gerardo kept re-focusing me and wanted to explain the moral of the stories. Then, at once, everyone decided to go outside for something I cannot remember and I started to get up and leave. Gerardo looked confused and asked, “Where are you going? The story isn’t finished?”
He always had that serious approach. In fact, when most his age were going out to party every night, he enjoyed staying home with his father, Gaetano. Family is incredibly important and, after moving out of his parent’s house, he bought a home a few blocks away and moved his brother, father, and mother, my aunt Artemisia, with him. If you think Gerardo’s restaurant, San Pietro, makes great food, you would be blown away by his mother’s. The meals at the new house were always finished with the best espresso coffee from his professional, espresso machine. It was, and still is, the very same, large one you find in the best cafes in Italy.
While my personal style is all my own, it would be a lie to say I didn’t admire and take cues from people like my Father, my Brother, and Gerardo. I remember when me and my childhood friend collected soda cans to recycle and bring in and exchange each for a nickel, I actually got dressed up in tapered jeans, a button down collared shirt, and a beret. It was odd to see a pre-pubescent kid walk into a supermarket with a bag of used cans, dressed like an adult. Minus the beret, which I got from my Father, Alberto, I was just imitating Gerardo. Sure, he has the money for Kiton, Attolini, Isaia and all the other great Neapolitan master tailors, but it’s the careful selection of colors and fabrics that make the outfit. He’s probably America’s best dressed man. I remember on Christmas Eve stopping by our restaurant, Sistina, as a little kid in a blazer and tie and Gerardo fixing my tie a bit and urging me to walk with one hand in my pocket. He stopped working to show me how to look better. That’s his fixation on detail and Beauty. Look no further than the Frette dining napkins placed atop each plate in San Pietro, underneath a ceiling of Swarovski crystals, to understand the depths of his love for the finer things.
I would even marvel how he would pull from cigarettes, hold in the smoke, wait a minute, and let it out through his nose. When taking trips in his Jeep Laredo, I would think the smell of tobacco in that car was the coolest thing in the world. Secret : As a kid, I would even pick up his used cigarettes and relight them when he was in stores buying ceramics, books, and art as I waited outside.
Before San Pietro and also Caravaggio, there was, and still is, Sistina. My father opened it in 1984 and, with Gerardo and his brothers as operating partners, turned it into of of the country’s most important and best restaurants. Imagine walking in to an elegant setting, being greeted by my father, who is charming and classy. At the bar, was Gerardo’s younger and energetic brother, Cosimo. In the kitchen, was Gerardo’s oldest brother and Master Chef, Antonio (R.I.P), and his father, Gaetano, who I called Zio Tanino. On the floor, was Gerardo and his other brother Giuseppe. These two titans of the restaurant world both worked the room like Frank Sinatra.
When you put all those people together on the same team, there is nowhere in the world you can find that combo and with that food. Good luck finding a father and son chef team, too. All that glamour was for the clients. In the back and after hours, the restaurant business is the hardest business around and Gerardo never backed away from rolling up his sleeves and putting in the time and work. I remember my brother and I stopping by at 2 in the morning and seeing Gerardo, through the window, inside polishing the beautiful, wood floors in his custom made Neapolitan suit. My brother and I used to love that machine as kids, but that was play, not work.
Gerardo Bruno is most comfortable being a leader but isn’t afraid to pay his dues. When Sistina had a soccer team that would play other restaurants’ teams, the championship became very large and important. I would watch from the sidelines, too young to play, but my brother, even at 12 years old, was a prolific goalscorer and he got to play with some great, retired, ex-professionals. And where was Gerardo? On the sidelines, of course, as Coach. He even stopped during a game to show me how to correctly hold a folder with papers. Grasp the open side facing down with your hands, as opposed to the open side facing up and risking tumbling the papers out. He bought all new gear and accessories for the team and I fondly remember his wife, Lucia, showing me and my brother their garage packed with it and throwing her hands up, asking, ” Is he crazy or what?” My brother and I didn’t think so; we loved it. The only thing he’s crazier than anything about are his two great kids, now adults, Francesco and Marco.
Piazza Life was proud to have a chat with Gerardo Bruno, who, along with his brothers Cosimo and Giuseppe, were honorees at the most recent Columbus Day Parade in 2019.
You are a very proud supporter of al things Campania; we definitely both have that in common. Would it be wrong to say that, even if you were born in another region, you still would have gravitated towards Campania and all its riches and glories?
Wherever is southern is my blood. The Southern Italian Kingdom is my blood. Campania or Calabria or Puglia are one to me. I answer like this because I studied two Italys. The Southern Italian Kingdom and the Northern Italian Kingdom.
What do you love most about Campania? You are from Salerno, which is totally different from Naples, even though the dialect is Neapolitan and the city and its culture are the most dominant presence in the region. What do you love most about the many different parts of Campania?
Campania has always been a multicultural region which I appreciate very much. I like everything about Campania.
You are probably America’s best dressed man. Since I was a child, I would always tell people that, while Milan is the Capital of Fashion, Naples is the Capital of Style ! It heavily influenced the world and, of course, its surrounding areas. You are a great Ambassador of Neapolitan Style. How do you go about assembling your outfit for the day? Do you take practicality, weather, meetings etc into consideration?
I have my own style, literally. In fact, I have a personal clothing maker from Naples, Isaia. I will not wear anything that is not custom-made and signed with my initials.
Your restaurant, San Pietro, puts out some of America’s best food. We all know that. That being said, your most treasured meal is on Sunday with your Family. Clearly, that day’s company is more important to you than any other, but you must surely love your amazing wife’s, Lucia, incredible food. What’s a typical Sunday meal and experience at your house?
U’tiano. A long cooked ragù of tomato with meat balls, spare ribs, braciole, oxtail, and tossed with homemade fusilli. That’s my life, that is my passion. Beforehand, we have fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted peppers, and soppressata. I also love ‘nduja Calabrese as part of my Sunday meals. And I love my wife’s occasional homemade toasted bread and pizza. We begin at four and finish eating at nine. It is a celebration of our culture and family unit. I am very lucky I have my sons and my wife eating with me on Sunday.
What would your last meal be?
Fusilli made by my mother Artemisia in a ragù of tomatoes and meats and spicy ricotta cheese on top.
You like to read; which topics interest you most and why?
I like reading about old fashioned cooking so that I can translate it into modern cooking. I hate reading about politics. I love to read about American industry.
You have a magical way to work the room at San Pietro and ensure each diner at each table feels personally attended to and cared for. Is that when Gerardo is at his best?
We just filmed at San Pietro for a TV show last night. I have another one Wednesday and another on Saturday, if you’d like to come. Last night I cooked and served food in the dining room for an audience of 70 people. That is me at my most natural. San Pietro is my palcoscenico (my stage.) Without San Pietro I am dead.
Your cigar collection is as impressive as your watch, clothing, and wine collection. You should smoke less but which are your favorites?
There is nothing better than Anniversario Special R by Davidoff.
If it weren’t for the restaurant business, what else would be your dream job?
I would have been a lawyer. Definitely. I am a natural prosecutor.
Do you believe in an After Life?
No. I believe in what you leave behind. By the way, Gianluca, come to San Pietro for dinner with your wife. I miss you, man.