Article and Photography: Jose Morales / Photography Assistant: Luis De Jesus
New York City, New York, USA – Long gone are the days when the streets of Greenwich Village were lined up by what some thought were shops and bars of a dubious nature. The neighborhood has a long history of attracting creative and courageous individuals eager to make their dreams come true in New York City while fighting against all the odds. While still maintaining its artistic appeal, the neighborhood has also become a hub of popular cafes, restaurants, and bars; many of these owned by the same young people who one day moved to this city with nothing but their dreams. A perfect example of this is Frevo, a contemporary French restaurant that opened this past year in the heart of Greenwich Village, and has engraved into its DNA the artistic vibe of the neighborhood.
Upon arriving at Frevo’s location on 8th Street, you will probably think you are in the wrong place. You see, Frevo is conspicuously hidden behind an art gallery showcasing work by the French contemporary artist Toma-L. Intrinsic and chaotic art pieces -much like life in New York City- hang vibrantly on the white, and brick walls. Behind one of these paintings is a hidden door welcoming you to Frevo. The door creates a true divide between the turmoil of New York City and the remarkable dining experience that awaits behind it.
Frevo was born from the imagination of Chef Franco Sampogna, and restaurant manager and co-owner Bernardo Silva. The restaurant (designed by renowned Danish design firm Søren Rose Studio) is sophisticated and intimate, blending aspects of French interior design while keeping the New York vibe at heart. The restaurant sits 24 guests, with 18 of those seats being at the communal counter that faces the open kitchen space. I must say that if like me, you are not a fan of communal dining settings, do not fret. The dimly lit atmosphere of the room, the comfortable seats, and the experience of having Chef Sampogna and his team craft the experimental dishes in front of you (while the sommelier serves you one of their signature cocktails) will make for one of the most intimate dining experiences you have ever experienced.
At the young age of 28, Chef Sampogna already boasts a remarkable resume. Originally from Brazil, Chef Sampogna moved to the south of France when he was 17, and this is when he discovered his passion for food. The award-winning Chef soon began to work with some of the biggest names in the world of French Cuisine, including the Michelin Star chefs Fabrice Vulin, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse. His passion for food and his quest to expand his culinary skills have taken him around the world. His dedication and expertise are highlighted in every single one of the five dishes on offer on the tasting, seasonal menu at Frevo.
During our visit, our dinner began with the Lump Crab with broccoli and curry, followed by the Green Asparagus with pistachio and coconut. At this moment, the sommelier continued to offer and suggest drinks and wines that perfectly complemented the dishes. Following was the Halibut Fish with fennel and mushroom marmalade – the fish masterfully cooked over a thin layer of crispy bread. It is a dish the Chef is most proud of. This delicious dish was followed by the Long Island Duck with spinach, raisins, and potatoes. It was, without a doubt, our favorite dish. Simply put, I do not like duck. The reason why this was the favorite dish is that we had never tasted duck like this before, boasting a sensational combination of flavors, ingredients, and textures, with the duck, tenderly cooked, and subtly sweet. It changed my mind about duck, and it is a dish I hope to see again on the menu in a future season. The dinner closed with the Lemon Custard and Iced Green Tea dessert, which blends flavors of almond, thyme, and vodka.
The creation of Frevo would not have been the same without the input of the restaurant manager and co-owner, Bernardo Silva. His comprehensive, award-winning background in hospitality and restaurant management has allowed him to create a truly memorable culinary experience.
One of the aspects that make Frevo truly special is the opportunity to witness its team interact with each other in the kitchen, and how each one of them passionately owns their roles. Chef Sampogna and Silva have a long friendship, and Frevo was their dream. A dream that, as its Portuguese name signifies, is quickly raising the heat as one of the best restaurants in New York City.
Interview With Chef Franco Sampogna and Restaurant Manager Bernardo Silva
– As a young chef, you already have quite an impressive resume under your name. Thinking back to your childhood in Brazil, did you ever imagine this life trajectory?
CFS: No, never. When I was in Brazil, the only thing I did was surfing. That’s it! I never thought about much else. I wanted to be a lawyer when I was younger. It was when I moved to France that everything changed. It was France that drew me into the world of food and cooking. I never thought that one day I would be here.
– So, you did not have much experience with cooking before moving to France?
CFS: No experience. I was only 17 when I moved to France. I had family in France who took me to different restaurants where I was able to try different cuisines and foods such as Tarte Tatin and lamb chops. At 17, I found this food to be amazing, but my focus at the time was to stay home and learn how to speak French. There was a point where my family told me I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life. They guided me in the direction of becoming a chef. At first, I didn’t like it. However, it quickly became my passion.
– Do you believe that our passions are nurtured or that we are born with them?
CFS: I believe they are nurtured. I think you can always find an interesting hobby to do and then become passionate about it. For example, I did Jujutsu, and I wasn’t born with the passion of being great at it. I simply fell into it and learned to love it. I think that day-after-day, you begin to love your craft more and more, as you want to learn more in-depth about it. This was the same for me when it comes to cooking.
– When discussing Frevo and its hidden gem concept behind a curated art gallery, how did the idea of linking the world of art with the world of food come about?
CFS: Initially, it was a struggle for us to formulate the restaurant because we had a limited budget. This place was much bigger than we had envisioned. When visiting this place, we felt we would not have enough money for this entire space. As a result, we had to figure something out where it was not going to be too empty. Bernardo then mentioned that we should split the space and have an art gallery as an entrance. We reached out to artist Toma-L to take over this space. I was walking through Paris and saw his work in an art gallery and was impressed as it exuded such energy. As New York has a lot of power and energy, he was a perfect choice. There is beauty within the struggle. If we would have had a larger budget, then maybe it wouldn’t have been this way, and we would not have come across this concept.
– When we talk about your experience in France and opening Frevo in the heart of one of New York City’s most trendy neighborhoods, what is the difference between your New York and French clientele?
CFS: I think New Yorkers know what they want, and they are very specific about a lot of things. As we wanted to do a New York restaurant, we felt we needed to make the dining experience shorter. All the restaurants I have worked for in France offer many different small courses. We decided to cut everything, and instead of doing ten courses, we aimed to cater to the clientele that feels comfortable with a shorter menu – those that can come for one hour and a half business meals, for example. A lot of New Yorkers want to come, have a great meal, and then go to the theatre or somewhere else. They do not want to spend three to five hours just for dinner. This is the most significant difference when comparing to France.
– When it comes to creating a menu, coming up with recipes, and crafting dishes, what inspires you, and how long is this process?
CFS: The process varies, and it can sometimes be very fast! Usually, we think in advance about what we would like to do for future menus. There are a lot of things I use that are associations. I don’t necessarily use recipes. I use associations from memories of traveling. The crab curry and broccoli dish, which was on a past menu, was an association of a memory of me traveling where I ate crab with curry together.
Traveling and experiencing cultures is what inspires me. When I was visiting my mom in Brazil, and I came back and added coconut with pistachio and peas to a dish, this was after trying a coconut foam that was very light and not too sweet. Somehow, this became connected to something which inspired me.
I only do recipes for the desserts as we need to be precise, and that is after a lot of experimenting by Pierre (Chef de Cuisine) and me. A lot of mistakes happen in the process, but that’s how we learn.
In my opinion, cooking has a small number of recipes. It is more about art and what you put into it to create a flavor. It’s not easy, as we have to think about everybody individually – to please everybody, which is somewhat impossible. So we strive to please the majority, which is incredibly hard when creating a menu and finding the right niche.
– When thinking of Frevo’s intimate dining experience but open kitchen setting, how has the team managed to remain calm during the stresses that can happen in a professional kitchen?
CFS: We have a small but very professional team that continues to grow. In the kitchen, everybody knows what they’re doing. Of course, there are unpredictable things that can go wrong. It can be complicated working in front of clients, which is a delicate line. The difference between our restaurant and that of others is that we created an atmosphere where the service and kitchen are one. The way we work makes us realize and appreciate each other’s work and makes us unified. We work together as a team.
– Bernardo, what do you want your guests to take with them after visiting Frevo?
BS: Frevo is something very intimate, and I wanted to ensure that the clients feel they are taken care of in a custom-made-kind-of-way. This means spending time with the guests, getting to know them, and assisting them with the choices on the menu. Sometimes, when you have a big team, you lose that personal touch. You lose the personality and soul. That is what we wanted to avoid by creating such an intimate space.
Also, the experience of passing through the gallery provides a different sort of energy. In big cities such as NYC, people tend to come to restaurants with their stresses from outside, and then, by you accommodating them and welcoming them with a smile, it makes them debrief and relax. This intimate space is a gateway that enables people for a certain moment -even if it’s just for a couple of hours- to leave their problems outside. We try to create a full experience with our essence.
– As business entrepreneurs, what advice have you both received in your careers that you feel is important for you to share with aspiring food entrepreneurs?
CFS: Perseverance – continue a course of action even in the face of difficulty, even with little or no prospect of success. This is important for us as we had no experience in NYC, which was very hard. We worked very hard for almost two years to get here, questioning ourselves while taking the risks that would lead us to success. But, the mindset to persevere kept us going, even when we weren’t successful in landing investors or with business plans. Perseverance is also important as many people do not realize what it truly takes to persevere.
BS: I would share that it’s very important to surround yourself with positive people that can support you and that complement you and your talent. Putting a nice team together that shares your vision is also essential. – GM
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