Teresa Buongiorno

Teresa Buongiorno

Teresa Buongiorno

A true ambassador for Puglia’s modern food scene, Teresa Buongiorno’s inventive, self-taught style of cooking is a breath of fresh air. By bringing the region’s traditional dishes into the 21st century, she helped boost the reputation of an area already famous for its fantastic food.

Running an experimental, innovative restaurant in the heart of Puglia – where classical dishes reign supreme – was never going to be easy, but self-taught Teresa Buongiorno didn’t want to stick to tradition. Her dedication paid off after years of hard work, and now Già Sotto L’Arco, the restaurant she runs with her husband Teodosio, has a Michelin star and the respect of locals and tourists alike.

As a child, Teresa was always happy to help her mother and grandmother in the kitchen. Being born in Puglia meant she was surrounded by some of Italy’s best ingredients – tomatoes from Brindisi, olive oil from Salento and fresh fish brought ashore just two kilometres from her village often made appearances at the dining table. ‘I was always fascinated by how much work my mother put into making just one meal,’ Teresa tells us. ‘Naturally, I wanted to get involved.’

Teresa’s first taste of professional cooking came when she met her husband Teodosio, whom she married in 1981. His parents ran a neighbourhood tavern called Già Sotto L’Arco famous for its tripe rolls and other traditional roast meat dishes. Despite this, Teresa only got to cook big family meals on Sundays, while Teodosio studied nursing during the day and helped out at the restaurant at night. Her husband eventually stopped studying and the pair decided to open a shoe shop together, deciding that the life of a restaurant owner wasn’t for them. However, business was slow at the shop, so they found themselves working shifts at Già Sotto L’Arco to make ends meet.

Soon enough, the pair were working every day from morning to night trying to make their business a success. Teresa had also given birth to their two children, Antonio and Luigi, so when Teodosio’s father said he needed their help managing the restaurant, they agreed to close the shop and Teresa began helping his mother in the kitchen in 1992.

Già Sotto L’Arco was favoured by locals for serving well known Puglian dishes, but Teresa was constantly researching and practising different cooking styles from all over Italy, teaching herself new methods and techniques. ‘I didn’t want to stick to traditional dishes,’ she explains. ‘I had lots of ideas and spent many nights thinking up new recipes.’ When Teresa and Teodosio were given full control of the restaurant in 1997, they decided to change the menu and try something new. Despite this, the locals continued asking for the food they were used to. The pair took a gamble and stopped offering the traditional cuisine, which alienated the regulars, but they had a vision of what they wanted to do and strived to make it work. ‘We visited a lot of other restaurants to see what everyone else was doing,’ says Teresa. ‘I still remember a wonderful meal at the three Michelin-starred Don Alfonso – we realised we wanted to do something like it, even if it meant having an empty restaurant!’

Teodosio eventually left the kitchen and became the restaurant’s sommelier instead, ordering in bottles instead of cheaper boxes of wine, but business still wasn’t picking up. The couple were all but ready to close Già Sotto L’Arco for good, until a famous food critic called Edward Raspelli happened to stop by for lunch. He gave the restaurant a glowing review, and soon enough people were travelling from all over Puglia to try Teresa’s cooking. This heralded a new dawn for the business, and it wasn’t too long until the Michelin inspectors awarded the restaurant its first star.

Nowadays the restaurant is full of diners praising Teresa’s inventive cuisine. ‘Eggs at the spa’ with pea cream and crispy pancetta is the perfect example of her quirky, modern way of cooking, while Confit cod with onion sauce and mullet roe and Crepe cake with bitter chocolate mousse show off her playful approach to presentation.