Words by Matthew Burgos
Growing up, Vincenzo and Antonio Lebano would shadow their grandparents in their kitchen. Their grandmother would pick the fresh ingredients for their grandfather to cook with, a model of how a pair works and complements each other in cooking. As their grandparents fed them with savoury pasta dishes, freshly chopped herbs, and plates of smoked fish or grilled meat, the Lebano brothers had a taste of what they would pursue in life: being chefs and working together in the same kitchen.
Vincenzo, the eldest, studied the hotel industry as his first step to becoming a chef. His younger brother Antonio watched him dabble into the terminologies and techniques of cooking. As his fascination with his brother’s studies and cooking grew, Antonio followed Vincenzo in his footsteps and studied in the same industry.
When Vincenzo finished and started working as a chef, Antonio would split his time studying during the weekdays and working with his brother on the weekends. At a certain point of their collaboration, their paths divided, separating the two to work at restaurants, pubs, catering, and banquets, and to experiment with and discover their style in cooking.
Years later, fate seemed to bring them back together in one space. Vincenzo explained: “Antonio had been a great friend to the Cerea family of DaVittorio, whose background also belongs in the culinary field. In 2014, Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a luxury collection hotel in Milan, began collaborating with the Cerea family, and that was when the brothers Chicco and Bobo Cerea tapped and included us in the collaboration.”
Since then, the duo has graced Excelsior Hotel Gallia’s kitchen with their culinary skills, a game-changing moment Antonio still recalls. “To date, sharing a position as a chef with Vincezo in one of the most impressive hotels in Milan makes me proud. Ours is a working relationship of real collaboration and mutual esteem, even if there are ‘heated’ moments, which always lead us to raise our level of attention towards the kitchen, the ingredients, and to our customers and our team,” Antonio said.
Located on the seventh floor of Excelsior Hotel Gallia in Milan, Terrazza Gallia helms a luxurious dining experience with its portrayal of Italian cuisine and the landscape of Piazza Duca D’Aosta that evokes the grandeur and energetic vibes of Milan.
“It is at the heart of the city where we always welcome you with enthusiasm and open arms. It is the place where our guests trust us and let themselves be carried away in evenings dedicated to great dishes, great service, and great wines. Terrazza Gallia has been and still is our daily workout where we measure our efforts and performances. It is a place for people with a lot of passion for food and life,” the brothers say.
For Vincenzo and Antonio, they strive for a culinary experience that resembles the feeling of home, an echo of a family’s grand welcome to a homecoming through shared stories and plates of home-cooked dishes. “In my opinion, the welcome, the smile, and ultimately, the substance of the dishes are fundamental and the strong passion points of our restaurant. Our recipes are drawn from our deep relationship with the land and local producers, which allow us to present extraordinary ingredients to our customers,” Antonio says.
One may find what Antonio is describing in their plate of spaghettoni miseria e nobilità, a classic spaghetti with garlic, oil, and chili pepper, laid on a grilled shrimp coral sauce and garnished with caviar and fried breadcrumbs. There is also a serving of yellow tomato and provolone amberjack, or a slice of amberjack cooked on the grill with a yellow tomato sauce and smoked provolone, garnished with escarole and herbs. To finish off the course, the brothers serve their version of tiramisù, a dessert that has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2015.
“If you think of an Italian dessert, you might immediately think of a good tiramisu. I call our version a little out of the ordinary. It has a sphere of sugar that contains a tiramisu foam, plus all the flavours and ingredients that make up its magic: dark chocolate, coffee cream, mascarpone ice cream, and sponge cake soaked in bitter coffee,” the brothers add.
When asked to describe the style of cooking, the brothers say it is sincere, Mediterranean, and spontaneous. It differs from the way others cook since theirs is a cuisine of emotions – their fiery passion for cooking appears evident in every plate they serve – which they have developed through experimental cooking, one without strict procedures and instructions. Their love for raw and fresh ingredients has also led them to meet and know people and producers, who, like them, love and respect food, an element to their continuous growth in cooking.
“We are Italians, and we live in the country with the richest biodiversity in the world, from fish to meat, from vegetables to fruit, from oils to cheeses, from wines to dishes,” Vincenzo says. “We are lucky because this work and our company have given us the opportunity to travel and understand ourselves and our roots more, to learn and borrow new techniques, and to find and discover new ingredients.”
Outside the kitchen, the brothers live a separate life. In his free time, one may see Vincenzo at home with his wife and daughter; perhaps strolling by the seaside or in the mountains; jogging around the city; walking in the park; sharing stories with his parents and Antonio in Naples; in Sicily at Giuseppe’s; or foraging for a new trattoria to try. As for Antonio, he might also be at home with his daughter Flavia; on the sofa rifling through the pages of a culinary or pastry book; running in the park; trying dishes and desserts in some pastry shop, pizzeria, or restaurant; or across Italy to hunt and gather raw ingredients to cook with.
Touching on if these events depict their happiness, the brothers harmonize with their thoughts. Vincenzo says: “I am happy whenever I know I have done my job well and when I see that the guests who dine in our restaurant are happy with the food and service. It is also when my daughter looks at me and says, ‘good morning, Dad!’ that I feel this happiness. Balancing life and career can be challenging, but not impossible. Career-wise, I feel that it is progressing on the right path, and I am grateful for that.”
Echoing his brother’s philosophy, Antonio also lives in the joyful moments he spends with his family: “Happiness is being able to have time for my family and my little girl. Now, I am happy with my path at work and in my private life. While our day-to-day work in the kitchen is full of new challenges, I have always put my heart into it, knowing that everything will be just fine. I am aware that there is a long journey ahead of us, but with commitment, I believe we can succeed regardless of challenges.”
From the pasta dishes to their tiramisù, the brothers have always displayed their reverence for food and flavours. If one wants to experience the happiness the brothers serve in every dish, they simply must step into the terrace of Terrazza Gallia in Milan and wait for the Italian cuisine Vincenzo and Antonio Lebano cooks up that speak of their passion for food, prowess in culinary techniques, and playfulness in life.