Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
When Franco Sampogna was just 17 years old, he moved from his birthplace of Brazil to France. His early days in the kitchen were spent in Paris, cooking alongside Chefs Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy to learn the techniques, appreciation for quality, and timeless flavors that made them so successful. Several years of training, competitions, and awards later, Sampogna landed in New York with an idea for an art-centric restaurant, focused on rotating exhibitions and culinary excellence.
His thought was to create a private space in downtown Manhattan that effortlessly blended high-brow art and food, with an art gallery staged in front of a hidden, speakeasy-like restaurant. Alas, Frevo was born. Paying homage to the Portuguese word “ferver,” which means “to boil” in English, Frevo “contributes to the boiling and overflowing energy New York City has to offer,” said Sampogna.
Recently, Whitewall visited the Frevo on West 8th Street to check out its latest exhibition, try an array of dishes, and meet the team behind the open kitchen. From the outside, the reservation-only restaurant appears to be a white-walled, square-shaped art gallery with a small exhibition. But once inside, visitors can count the seconds pass before a maître d' emerges from a seamless door—neatly disguised by a painting. Our idea of the establishment as solely an art gallery slowly faded once we made our way through the alluring passage, which extended to an open kitchen behind wrap-around high-top seating, walls adorned with dimly-lit artworks, and just enough room for a few booths and private dining tables in the back.
In both spaces, we were in for a treat, viewing an unmissable exhibition entitled "Basquiat – A Portrait" of photographs of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Richard Corman. The images, taken at the artist’s home and studio on Great Jones Street in 1984, set the stage for creative expression. Behind the counter, Sampogna appeared, introducing his team of professional chefs and sommeliers who were quick to continue prepping plates. What followed were several hours spent savoring unique dishes and wines, guided by a conversation about each dish’s complex components.
To elaborate, Whitewall spoke with Sampogna about Frevo’s current exhibition, how it considers sustainability, and why art and hospitality have more in common than the public thinks.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe the dining experience at Frevo?
FRANCO SAMPOGNA: We wanted the dining experience at Frevo to be one like no other. It is a modern contemporary restaurant that provides guests with the sensory experience from blending high end art and fine dining. We want Frevo to reflect the international influence that stems from the culture of its founders and bring that influence to the elegant atmosphere of downtown New York.
The space features an art gallery in front of a private, open-kitchen restaurant. Can you tell us a bit about how Frevo acts as inspiration for artists to show works, rather than the kitchen being inspired by the art on view?
FS: For us, hospitality and art have a very direct combination to each other. My business partner Bernardo Silva saw this first-hand while working on Hotel Windsor in the South of France. By blending art into hospitality, it allowed people to appreciate both the art and the experience. We also want to highlight up-and-coming artists to give them an opportunity to create something exciting and “boiling”, which pays recognition to Frevo’s name.
WW: What relationship do you see between food and art?
FS: Cooking and art have distinct parallels with each other. Each starts with a blank canvas and turns into something beautiful. I believe cooking is a craft in itself and can express and evolve, just as traditional art does.
WW: Many dishes on your menu focus on providing the freshest ingredients, like sea urchin from Maine vs. Santa Barbara depending on the time of year. You also mentioned a focus on sourcing products from sustainable farms, like chicken from Green Circle in Pennsylvania. Can you tell us a bit about your selection of food and why you choose certain items or farms?
FS: There is one beautiful quote from a Brazilian artist that says: “Nature doesn’t love straight lines.” We firmly believe in this. During the year we try to follow what nature and the seasons offer to us at that specific time of the year. That is for us the first and most important part of our cooking. We do deep research to find the best providers and use their products at their peak.
WW: How do you consider sustainability at Frevo?
FS: Sustainability and fresh ingredients are a priority here at Frevo. We prioritize zero food waste reduction and tailor our menu through the seasonality of our ingredients and products. In addition, Frevo does not stock a surplus of ingredients that are not represented on the menu.
WW: You have an incredible team in the kitchen, from sous chefs to sommeliers. Can you tell us a bit about the level of professionalism, or professional achievements, found alongside you at Frevo?
FS: We have a small but highly professional team. Our head sommelier was awarded best young sommelier in France, our new assistant sommelier was awarded best sommelier in Chile, our pastry Chef Nicoll Notter is a European Champion of Pastry. We have high standards when hiring young professionals and their expertise is the reason that people feel at ease when dining with us. You can taste and feel the level of professionalism.
WW: Your dessert dish—ice cream atop a bed of shredded comte cheese drizzled in honey—mixes sweet and savory. What was your approach here? Why this dish?
FS: This is one of our signature dishes. We wanted to offer cheese at the space but in an unconventional way; no cheese board, no crackers, no jams. So worked for a long time on this dish until the finalized version. Shaved 36-month comte, honey ice cream and truffle honey. It works almost like a pre-desert. Sweet, savory, refreshing and light.
WW: What exhibition is on view at the gallery now?
FS: We are delighted to announce a show by the French artist Thomas Labarthe, aka Toma-L, who will be back to Frevo for a second time. His art combines movement, color, and energy; and he’s exhibiting five pieces created exclusively for Frevo.
Toma-L had sold-out a show this year in Macadam Gallery in Brussels and is now back again in New York City to show his pieces at Frevo. This exhibition will run until July 16th, 2022.
WW: What's next for Frevo?
FS: Here at Frevo we love collaboration. Whether that is with artists or individuals from the gastronomy world we love seeing multiple visions coming together. This past December, we had the honor to host Brazilian chef Alberto Landgraf from Oteque for our first Four Hands Collaboration Dinner. We are happy to be hosting another Four Hands Collaboration Dinner this summer with one of the biggest Michelin-Starred chefs in the world. He is bringing his expertise from Asia to the States for the first time here at Frevo.