Michelin-starred eatery serves worst meal for James Beard Award winner

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Robin Estrin

“[Food] needs to be substantial. And it can be an experience that challenges you and it pushes you. But I don't think it should be patently unpleasant,” says food writer Geraldine DeRuiter. Photo by Shutterstock.

“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,” writes James Beard Award-winning food writer Geraldine DeRuiter in a recent review for her blog The Everywhereist. It followed a visit to Michelin-starred restaurant Bros in the Southern Italian city of Lecce. 

Since its publishing last week, the post has gone viral. In the scathing review, DeRuiter describes the four-hour experience where her party was served 27 courses of foam, “frozen air,” and meat-infused molecules. Per person, the meal costs 130-200 Euros ($146-225 USD). 

She says the experience has changed the way she thinks about fine dining and the value society places on high-end restaurants. 

“First of all, Lecce, to its credit, is a gorgeous city and [has] fantastic restaurants. I was excited and I was ready,” DeRuiter tells KCRW. “And the first course that came out was this green, sort of gelatinous, tiny little crepe. It was probably about the size of a quarter, maybe a half dollar. And it had raw herbs inside of it. And I thought, well, that was strange.”

Throughout the night, DeRuiter and her party were brought other deconstructed plates, such as shots of vinegar, thin cuts of edible paper, and citrus foam served in a plaster cast of two Lecce chefs’ mouths. 

“There's a little bit of liquor in it and actually tasted quite nice, [yet] very insubstantial. There was no utensil with which to eat it. So you had to put your mouth up to it and slurp it out, which was an incredibly vulnerable and awkward experience. And you just had to pray that you didn't accidentally make eye contact with people at the table.”

Lecce chef Floriano Pellegrino has penned a three-page rebuttal to DeRuiter’s review, where he explains he’s a misunderstood artist whose 27-course meal challenges the idea of what food can represent. 

DeRuiter says she agrees that food can represent art, but there are limits to how that can be accomplished. 

“What a beautiful thing to be discussing the nature of art as a result of a meal. I think that's inherently great. I think that once I get past the misogyny of his post — because oh my gosh, it is dripping with it — what I think he does is he makes quite a few legitimate claims about the nature of art, which is art is uncomfortable,” she says. “And I think there is something inherently true that art has no boundaries and no requirements.”

However, she says food does have boundaries and requirements. “It needs to taste good, especially if you're cooking for another person who's paying.”

She adds, “[Food] needs to be substantial. And it can be an experience that challenges you and it pushes you. But I don't think it should be patently unpleasant.”

DeRuiter compares Lecce’s Michelin rating to the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone says they love something but they can’t call it out for fear of being labeled as ignorant. 

“I was essentially told that I didn't understand the avant garde and that I don't understand food. And Chef Floriano essentially told me I should go eat at McDonald's,” she says. “I think people don't want to think that they don't get it, rather than say, ‘Hey, you know what, maybe this isn't executed properly.’”

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