In love with cooking, Benedetto Buccheri has always wanted to be a chef and a restaurateur. From family lunches with a keen sense of conviviality to dinners with friends during his high school years, to opening the Bebop restaurant in Palermo and being included in the prestigious Michelin Guide. Sicilian Secrets interviewed him.
Q: How did your career as a chef begin?
A: Since I was a child, I watched my family participate in organizing the traditional Sunday lunch and enjoyed helping my mother, aunt and grandfather. I think the pleasure of the table was born at that stage of my life. Then in high school I often used to organize dinners at home, inviting my classmates. There I discovered the nuances of a good soffritto, the importance of attention given in the kitchen and the value of being a good host. It wasn’t until I finished school, while in college, that I finally had the chance to enter a professional kitchen, and from there I haven’t never stopped. Humbly, I experienced some important ones, starred and not, around Italy, where I had the honor of dealing with chefs who trained me and gave me tools that I did not have before.
Q: You collected experiences all over the world, in 2017 you opened your restaurant in Palermo, and in 2022 you gained the mention in the Michelin Guide: what do you think is the secret ingredient of your success?
A: Regardless of the accolades and awards, I think that at the base you need great dedication, constancy in study, and doing your best with intelligence and sensitivity. And then to believe in yourself and in those who choose to make their career path with you. I am very fortunate to have found a group of people with whom I share this fantastic experience on a daily basis. Without these factors, the restaurant would not exist and there would have been no inclusion of Bebop in the Michelin Guide.
Q: How much does Sicily and your being Sicilian influence your cuisine?
A: Sicily is definitely a great inspiration for my cooking. It is an island full of history, culture, food and wine traditions and incredible products. However, all these inputs are filtered through my own experiences and creative flair. It happens that during service the dish undergoes changes because I feel it needs to be expressed differently. I understand that sometimes keeping up with me can be difficult, so I require great care and concentration in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Q: Can you tell us some curiosities about one of the latest creations signed by Benedetto Buccheri?
A: One of the latest dishes, certainly among the most requested by customers, is the ‘Seasoned tuna, rianata sauce and drops of Burtuqa’: the tuna meat is processed like a raw ham and seasoned until the texture is the desired one. Once ready, it is lacquered with a rianata sauce broken down into its ingredients (roasted tomato, Sicilian pecorino, Nubia garlic, anchovies). Once plated, it is perfumed with a splash of Palermo’s orange liqueur, Burtuqa to be precise. There is everything in this dish: study, application of technique, time and Sicilianity. In general, when a new recipe is born, if we find ‘WOW’ at the tasting, that’s when the dish becomes part of the menu.
Q: Is there a chef you would call a mentor or even a place, a journey, a scent…that is a source of inspiration for you?
A: Along the way I have been lucky to have had many masters who have given me valuable lessons. However, I think the first teacher was my grandfather with the lighting of the embers: still today in the kitchen my thoughts go to those moments spent with him.
Q: Many chefs focus on sustainability, on seasonal and zero-mile raw materials as well as on reducing waste. What is your opinion on the topic?
A: We talk about fundamental issues. At Bebop we have a fairly short menu that focuses on the quality of raw materials from small-scale production. Seasonal and local products are used, both seafood and vegetables. For meats, from the beginning, we have turned our attention to local farms. In addition, we actively seek to minimize waste. In a 0 waste spirit, ‘Pane Cunzato 2.0’ was born in 2022: we replaced the canonical ingredients bread, tomato, anchovies and caciocavallo cheese with a roasted tumminìa bran panella, a ‘butter’ made from the outcropping of Madonita black pig fat, a red shrimp carapace jam and a salad of sweet and sour vegetables and herbs. Bomb!
Q: After the tough period of the pandemic, in your opinion, what are the challenges that the restaurant industry has to face?
A: In this industry, if you live it as intensely as I do, the challenges never end. But they are also a great spur to do better. Today, they are no longer just about having new customers: there are environmental problems, social crisis and for some people even great economic difficulties. I believe that study, dedication and vision are key elements in running a business.
Q: What is the advice of Benedetto Buccheri for those who want to approach the world of cooking professionally?
A: I’ve always dreamed of doing this job and I’ve done a lot of necessary apprenticeship. Perhaps to those who want to approach this field with passion I would advise not to be in a hurry, to commit and enjoy the journey.
Q: What are future plans and – why not – some professional dreams?
A: I am very lucky because I do what I love. I feel I have achieved this goal but I also know that I have to work hard daily to defend it. I look forward to continued growth both professionally and, of course, in myself.