Antonio Peluso : A Success Story
This is the story of the chef who has taken Baccalà, salted cod, for those who are not proficient in Italian, to the next level. He has opened three restaurants that serve only Baccalà, he has written a book about it, and he styles himself ‘chef scellato’ – a pun almost lost in translation between ‘stellato’ (Michelin star chef) and ‘scella’ (local term for ‘wing’ in reference to the shape of the fish once salted). Can you guess who it is?
Well, it is none other than Antonio Peluso, an entrepreneur who had the guts to change his life and reshape his whole professional activity around this one fish species.
Antonio came from a totally different background, having performed as a local DJ and being the owner of a refurbishing business. He had the chance to acquire a small restaurant in his hometown, Marcianise, in 2015, and he said to himself “well, why not?”
The next question that obviously came to mind was what food to give his customers. He thought about Baccalà and persuaded himself it would be easy to specialise in serving it. It turns out that he massively underestimated the effort and dedication it would take to process this unforgiving delicacy. Given that the most popular version of Baccalà is the salted one – as opposed to Stoccafisso, which is sun-dried – the procedure to rehydrate it, rinse the salt out, and finally achieve the texture and tenderness that makes it so special, is painstaking and requires real expertise.
Antonio Peluso : his first Locanda del Baccalà
Never the one to back off from a challenge or an uphill path, Mr. Peluso persevered in his efforts. He opened his first restaurant and named it “La Locanda del Baccalà”. He was readily rewarded by a growing numbers of customers, including a few local celebrities. This made him realise that although his market of reference was not entirely ready, it was rapidly evolving.
So his next move was to take on the market directly, to storm it almost, yet not with commercials as one would expect, but at personal level. He took advantage of every food event or festival to load up a ’76 TrackLander vehicle and take his restaurant brand “Locanda del Baccalà” all around region Campania, exploiting the ever popular trend of street-food. His specialties were exquisite fillets of fried or grilled Baccalà, as well as Mantecato – the unsalted dried cod prepared according to a classic Venician recipe.
A Baccalà Boutique
When more and more people started asking him where to source the fish so they could cook it at home themselves, Antonio came up with the idea of opening a Baccalà Boutique opposite his restaurant in Marcianise. The venue offers the choicest Baccalà and Stoccafisso from the Faroe Islands in Iceland, besides a very large kitchen for holding cooking classes for all fish lovers.
The second, the third and the fourth ones
Driven by the typical volcanic energy of many Neapolitans, firmly persuaded that in life one must never stop, our chef decided to open two more venues. His second Locanda is in Salerno, in the style of a Bistrot. It is warmly welcoming, unpretentiously so, it affords a view of the waterfront and offers every conceivable variation on the theme of Baccalà. The Third one is in Cava de’ Tirreni.This venue takes on a different nuance, with a focus on street food that is perfect for attracting young people. Here they serve fried fish in the Cuoppo, the traditional brown paper cone, in the guise of batter-fried Baccalà, fried anchovies, fish-balls and other tasty combos. But the king did not stop: on 16 June 2020 he opened his fourth one in Vietri sul Mare. An open air restaurant overlooking one of the most beautiful squares on the Amalfi coast.
Mr Antonio Peluso is indeed a man of confidence, and he must have felt reassured if not positively boosted by his success. However, what led him to style himself the King of Baccalà was the popular saying that every man is king in his own abode. Self-ironic in his newly acquired title, our King felt prompted him to be generous with his subjects, the people who cherish the taste of this fish from the north, and decided to share all the recipes from his restaurant menu with them.
This new idea took the form of a recipe book called 50 Sfumature di Baccalà, or 50 Shades of Baccalà in English. In my next article I will select and translate my favourite recipes in English for You, our dearest readers.
Did you know?
In Neapolitan Dialect Cuoppo, the paper cone containing food, is also a derogatory term referred to very ugly people. So prick up your ears and make sure no one calls you a Cuoppo!