The biggest change in Felipe Bronze’s career happened one year and six months ago, when the Brazilian chef decided to reopen his famous Rio de Janeiro restaurant Oro, but with a totally new concept: he left behind the foams, the liquid nitrogen and the aesthetics-centered recipes to focus on heartier dishes, cooked over fire – an old passion that he has rekindled.
For that, he looked for a new building (in the trendy Leblon neighborhood), built a wood-burning oven and a parrilla in the centre of his kitchen and started making food more focused on flavour than anything else. He runs the new Oro with the help of his wife, Argentinian sommelière Cecilia Aldaz. “I've never felt so free,”, he says about his current moment.
He also says he has been able to reconcile his other tasks more easily, like hosting two TV shows in Brazil and also focusing on his other projects, like Pipo, a more casual restaurant that tries to refer to the party spirit of Rio de Janeiro, a city that holds a traditional bar culture. And he is even considering expanding his operations to other cities, like São Paulo (where he plans to open a branch of Pipo by 2018), Miami and Lisbon, as he exclusively told Fine Dine Lovers in the interview that follows.
Oro has changed a lot, not only in address, but also in concept. Why did you choose to take such a significant turn with the restaurant?
First of all, because I ended a partnership, which gave me complete freedom to think about how I wanted to run my business. I was a hired chef, so it wasn’t my business. The previous format stopped being so interesting for me. As a chef, I always liked to involve people, and my staff didn’t have much opportunity to grow. The business did not evolve. Even if I kept the name, it was natural that it couldn’t be the 'old Oro.' It had to have my personality, so I started thinking about the decor, who I wanted to have on my side, etc. I also turned my eyes inwardly. We came from a very technical and modern food. In our world, things change. I decided to rescue the old Felipe that lives in me to think about what I wanted to eat and cook. The rupture was part of the creative process and it was important for me to understand what direction I wanted to pursue, so I did.
You've turned to preparations with fire, something way more primitive. How did this happen?
I have to say that it happened in a very organic way ... I was looking for a place to reopen Oro and I thought that it would take two months at the most. The truth is that it took more than I planned, so I kept cooking recipes on a charcoal grill at home. A close friend came to visit me and tasted some of them. When he finished eating, he turned to me and joked: “The food in your home is better than in your restaurant!” We laughed, but that kept turning in my head, teasing me. He was right: grilled food is so full of aromas, personality. I thought how it would be to create beautiful aesthetic dishes from the fire, which is nice, hearty, tasty. It seemed clear as never before, so I decided to focus on dishes in the most modern technology we still have in a professional kitchen: the fire. And it's been a lot of fun.
Oro has this vibrant Brazilian soul, that is heavily linked with Rio de Janeiro’s atsmosphere. Do you think it could work in any other big city in the world?
I have a conviction that Oro is a cosmopolitan restaurant, in a cosmopolitan city. Rio welcomes people from all over the globe, just like London, Paris, and Barcelona. Oro is my idealised Rio de Janeiro, with all my roots and my experiences. I never wanted to make it an ethnic restaurant, with all Brazilian clichés. My work has influences from the places that I have visited, such as the spices of the Spanish, the Argentinian flames, the Japanese techniques ... That said, I think Oro could easily be located in any other big city, so much so that I have plans to open venues in other cities like Miami, what is set to happen in 2019. I'm looking to Lisbon with a lot of affection too. I just got back from the city and I was charmed by its effervescence. I've already looked for places and I want to open a business there in the next two years. A restaurant in Miami can bring cooks from all over the US with a very different background from my team, the same in Lisbon, which could bring together cooks from all over Europe. I love to think of it, how a restaurant could benefit from all this diversity.
I’m also taking Pipo to São Paulo next year [Bronze is planning to open it in the Spring] and I think this is a city where Oro could work beautifully, along with many other new concepts I have in mind, so who knows?
At Oro, the food can almost all be eaten with the hands, following the snack culture of Rio de Janeiro, where there are many botecos [bars with good food]. Do you think diners are looking for closer experiences with food? How do you see the future of fine dining in this context?
I think my work at Oro influences my work at Pipo, and the other way round. I like how the idea of a more casual place like Pipo can help me define the parameters of a fine dining restaurant. But for me a high-end restaurant is a place that can offer you the best food possible, with the best experience. Luxury has changed. And the concept of high-end restaurant changed with it. Luxury is more and more about going to a restaurant dressed in a comfortable outfit than having to wear a suit for dinner.
It is more about the big idea, the ingredient at its best, about a nice environment. I prefer to serve a sweet potato that has just been harvested than a white truffle from Alba that took more than a month to reach my hands and therefore lost all its rich aroma. I think going to a restaurant will be more and more about having an amazing experience, having fun and eating great food. Of couse there will still be fine dining restaurants as we know them, and they will keep attracting their costumers. But I think the future will be more democratic.
What is the difference between the creative processes of your restaurants?
I usually say Oro is our 'prèt-a-porter.' We launch a new menu every two months, which demands intense creative work from my team and I. But, as I said, they influence each other, so my teams are always exchanging ideas, and it's been very useful this way. The dishes that we think are the best ones in Oro are then referred to Pipo’s team, and we can charge more for the tasting menu experience. At Pipo, they need to be more affordable and accessible, but with the same creative DNA. But there are many situations in which we are thinking about a new dish for Pipo and we realise that, in fact, it has much more to do with Oro. Things like this happen all the time, so that’s why I strongly encourage synergy between the teams.
You've always been an award-winning and recognised chef, but you've never won so many awards as today. Why do you think this happened?
I can’t really say. The truth is that I’m going through a phase in my life where awards don’t matter so much to me. For a long time, I was really annoyed by the fact that Oro wasn’t on the list and those things. I need to be honest with you – for many years I worked with this purpose: win awards, be on the lists ... But recently, after I became a father and got the chance to have a business of my own, my focus changed and it stopped bothering me. I started to enjoy running my own restaurant, creating new recipes with my team, so the pressure has decreased. And then things like being chosen as the One To Watch happened. Life is ironic. We are very glad with the achievement, my staff is really happy, so I am too.