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Last week, Duncan and Cam sat down with a couple of young kings of the Wellington food scene. The Bresolin brothers, Leonardo and Lorenzo, are the owners of Scopa, Duke Carvell’s, Tommy Millions, Crazy Horse Steak House and Gentlemen’s Beans Coffee. Their dad ran the iconic Wellington restaurant Il Casino, and ever since, they have been driven to bring amazing food to Wellingtonians. The brothers became NZ celebs after they judged The Great Food Race on TV earlier this year. They are currently working on a new place called The Bresolin. They are intimidatingly cool: Lorenzo is famous for having the most impressive moustache in Wellington. Leonardo wore shneans before it was cool. We chatted over coffee at Scopa about their life in and around food.
Let’s start off with a classic: what’s your favourite food?
L: A pretty solid go-to would be some kind of midnight pasta. Whatever sort of fridge-surprises you can dig out. I’m a massive fan of leftovers. I pretty much cook meals to plan at least two or three other meals out of the one you are having at that time.
N: Favourite is pretty hard. Tuesday to Friday night, we kind of work all day and all night, so you are kind of eating around town and we have our favourite spots. We might go and hit sushi once a week here, go get a phở or go to Penang.
N: The weekends and Monday nights, those are three nights that I am home. And usually, on one of those nights, there might be a chicken dish, which is something that has been in our family tradition. Our father always…
L: The week didn’t end or start until the chicken had been eaten.
N: He would always have a roast chicken on a Sunday, and if he wasn’t around on a Sunday night to have a roast chicken we would have it on a Monday. So there is always chicken. Otherwise, for us, Asian. My partner loves Asian. Rice and noodles and fresh veges.
Let’s talk about your Italian heritage. Venice, is that right?
N: Our father came from just outside Venice, a small town: Portogruaro. He spent a few years in Venice. He came here when he was like 20-something.
L: Yeah, like 23. He did some pizzerias before [Il Casino]. First pizzeria in the country in Auckland with some old mate. And then he came down to Wellington and opened up a couple of little pizzerias, one called La Casa Pizza. Anyone who is at least over 50 will remember the first pizza joint and the crazy Italians who were running it. And that was our father and our uncle. They showed Kiwis that cheese on toast could be a little bit more exotic. And later went on to do Il Casino with our mother.
N: She had the first espresso machine, and so she used to chase the old man at the markets and try and get him to come in and show her how to use the machine.
What did you guys do after high school?
N: I went to Wellington College. He went to Onslow. All my mates were going to uni and I didn’t really want to go to uni because I didn’t know what to study. But I worked part-time, weekends and holidays for my old man. He was really keen for me to do something though: to have some sort of university education. I went to Switzerland and studied Hotel Management for three years.
L: We got to have a big adventure and drop him off. I was only 16, and then I came back to NZ and that was my first taste of Europe, and I went back and I wasn’t excited about school anymore. I was just hellbent on saving some pennies and getting back overseas. Then I went over for his graduation and we had a great little adventure around Europe. I stayed and worked in the same pizzeria that my father worked at in Venice, 30 years later. And then I came home after the summer and we were back in Welly doing it together.
What’s that like? You guys are brothers, do you always get along?
N: Yeah, we hated each other growing up. We used to try and kill each other. Seriously: our stepmum used to watch us while our dad’s at work and she would actually ring our dad and be like: “Shit, these guys are actually going to kill each other.”
L: He collected a lot of antique weaponry, so there was always a sword or a musket on hand.
N: Yeah, and then we had some time apart and then picked up and travelled. By the time he came back we got on really well.
L: We had never really worked together yet, and that’s why we had those great few years. There were massive plans for the development of Il Casino. It was no longer earthquake-safe. Pop decided to strip it back and fix it up and we got this site [Scopa] as a bit of a project to keep us busy and retain a lot of the long-term staff. I got the opportunity to come back to Cuba St, which I loved. We took this on. It was the first time we had really worked together.
N: The whole idea was that Dad just wanted cash flow to help support the other place. We thought we would just do pizzas and paninis and pasta. It would be real simple. I mean, fuck: we didn’t even have a cash register. And then this place just took off.
So when did Scopa open?
N: 2006. It just went from strength to strength.
L: The first couple of years, it was just rock’n’roll. We were turning away more people than we could serve. We wanted to find something else. That was when the opportunity came up on the corner where the Duke’s site is. It was great. We wanted to do some kind of tapas, for lack of a better name. It was almost the holding pen for Scopa. We were just sending them there for a drink.
N: Yeah, I was ringing him. It was like a walkie-talkie system.
L: “Big guy, orange afro, yeah yeah yeah he’s coming around. Okey dokey smokey.”
You are kind of telling a story. Where did the idea for Duke’s come from? Who is Duke Carvell?
L: Woah. He is sort of like a Don Juan or Don Quixote, kind of a mythological character, but had like a hedonistic lifestyle. He loved to eat and drink and party all round the world. It was a great fantastical tale that we thought we could adopt really well. It gives us a lot of cuisines to draw from. Sort of like the host with the most. We thickened up the mythological tale around the Duke and have rebirthed him into this celebration of his life.
Is he the guy on the door?
L: That’s our father. But one could speculate. The theory is that you will never know the Duke while he is alive. It is sort like a piratical title that gets passed once you have had your fun. You have consumed your plunder and have got your bounty and your booty. And then you will sort of hand the title down the line. So no one really knows where the Duke is now.
And so after Duke’s came Crazy Horse?
N: Duke’s was two years after Scopa, and then Crazy Horse was only like a year later.
L: We took on the existing Crazy Horse. The steakhouse is a pretty classic business. The head chef there we were good mates with, and we knew the place really well.
Where does all your drive come from?
L: It’s not a career, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a legacy and it’s our life. It’s not like a job where we show up and clock in at 11.
N: It just doesn’t stop as well. It’s working every day, every night.
L: Phone rings at 2 in the morning because our kitchen is on fire. A pigeon has come in. Some drunk dude has come through the window. Pipe burst in the roof. She can’t show up. You are perpetually troubleshooting. It’s your life.
What is the most difficult about it?
N: Finding enough time to do everything. There is so much on the go, and it’s about getting one thing done and moving onto the next. There’s so much going on. Sometimes you don’t even know where you are at.
What’s the Wellington food community like?
L: Restaurants work well in clusters.
N: They kind of feed off each other as well. We all get along.
L: Wellington has such a small gene pool, it keeps the quality quite high. If you are a bit average, you won’t be able to be around for very long.
But once you have made it, business is good?
L: Well, it can take years to establish. They might not be making anything off the business. It might be just surviving.
What’s it been like working with Council?
L: It’s bollocks, mate. It’s archaic. Especially when Kerry [Prendergast] was in power: she was all for this European city, and wanting dining on the street even though there is only a few days a year where that is viable. But they really do govern us with tight legislation. The way the rules are written, you are not allowed to ever be drunk anywhere. You are not allowed to have enough glasses of wine. You are not even allowed to develop the suburbs. Wouldn’t it be great to have a neighbourhood bar or pub?
Let’s talk about your new place. What’s it called?
L: It is called the Bresolin. It’s that local joint. It’s got a big 60-seater courtyard space and a big open fire. We are going to do Sunday beast feasts, where we will be roasting lambs and pigs. We will do a colab with local breweries and release a beer for a day. We have a little bar space downstairs that will be about 20-odd.
N: Then you have the upstairs, which is the dining room of the place. You can choose to dine depending on the environment you want to be in. The idea is that all year round, you can be outside. And if you want to be in a dining environment, we have the upstairs. The food side of it: we are taking bits and bobs of what we like and what we do well. We are taking the steak element from Crazy Horse with a nice wood-fired grill, but there are big plates and lots of sharing dishes. We are going to have some burgers and fried chicken.
L: Really accessible: for the students, for the neighbourhood, for everyone.
N: And a low price point as well. We want to keep it affordable to service everyone: high end, low end.
L: You also see a lot more of these casual offerings starting up, but they are not necessarily at a casual price point. Oh, you can go out for a really expensive burger now.
When’s the opening date?
L: Late October.
What other things in the future? Have you got a longer-term plan? When do you want to retire?
L: I dunno, man.
N: Yeah, I just turned 34.
L: I’m on KiwiSaver alright. I’m going to be sorted. I’ve just got to make it there.
If you are young and wanting to start up something in food, what advice would you give?
L: It is really hard to do it on your own. Very few business partnerships the world over actually work out. You might be great mates, and it might be a really expensive loss of a friendship over a few months. If you have got a like-minded idea and a different skill set. What do they say? The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Or the other way round. Synergy, baby.
N: Finding different people with different skills. You each bring something to it.
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
N: Trade. I don’t know, maybe a trade. Before I went and studied Hotel Management, I was keen on going to teaching college. I liked kids and working with kids. But now, if I look back at it, I would like to be some sort of builder.
L: I have always loved making things and creating in any sense of the word. I like to draw and paint and sing and dance and build things. I really liked the idea of buying a ute and becoming a builder when I was in high school, and I did shop class all the way through and that was really cool, but I wasn’t very diligent with the whole “measure twice, cut once”, so I didn’t think that was going to work. It would probably be in some sort of area of creativity or performance.
Anything else you would like to tell students?
L: Stay in school.