BRAVO Cucina Italiana has a new combo meal.

BRAVO Cucina Italiana

"Together, this team will make it their priority to provide high quality Italian Mediterranean food that is consistent and tastes amazing each time a guest visits one of the company’s 110 restaurants," the company says.

The Refresh of Brio Tuscan Grille, Bravo Cucina Gets Underway

A new culinary team plans to promote the “Italian Mediterranean Way of Dining.”

Following the $100 million sale of 110-unit Bravo Brio Restaurant Group to Spice Private Equity, a Swiss subsidiary of investment firm GP Investments, American restaurateur Bradley D. Blum and the Brazilian-based firm announced the formation of a new restaurant company, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc. The company said it “intended to be a progressive, relevant, diverse, and highly successful restaurant company for the 21st century,” hinting the Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italiana acquisitions were just the beginning. But before possible further deals, the company is focused on refreshing the two brands, especially from the culinary side.

FoodFirst Global Restaurants announced culinary hires dedicated to the “Italian Mediterranean Way of Dining.” Target No. 1 is significantly improving the quality and sustainability of the brand’s ingredients, the simplicity and authenticity of the recipes, the freshness and taste of food, and furthering the company’s trademarked mission for providing “Good Food for the Planet.”

“We are on a mission,” said Brad Blum, owner-partner, chairman and CEO of FoodFirst Global Restaurants, Inc., in a statement. “FoodFirst is the name of our new company for a reason. Our entire organization, including importantly our partners at GP Investments, is aligned and passionate about having the best food in all of Italian casual dining. What I truly love is helping people do things they didn’t believe were possible—and doing it as a team to delight our guests.”

“To accomplish this lofty goal, GP and Brad are investing significant resources into our restaurant business,” added Antonio Bonchristiano, vice chairman of FoodFirst Global Restaurants and CEO of GP Investments. “As a new private company, we are extremely excited that our actions suddenly put the company in a strong financial position with significantly lower debt and an infusion of equity capital to invest properly in our food, our people and our brands.”

Here are the new hires, as outlined by the company in a release:

John Imbriolo, Chief Culinary Officer

The son of an Italian immigrant chef, Imbriolo began his career at age 13 in his father’s kitchen, the fourth generation in his family to study Italian cuisine. After earning a degree in Restaurant Management, Imbriolo honed his skills at hotels and restaurants across New York City, including Naples 45 and the famed “21” Club. Chef ‘Johnny I” is certified in the preparation of classic Neapolitan pizza by the Associazione Margherita Regina in Naples, Italy. In 2004, he joined Romano’s Macaroni. A few years later, Imbriolo met Blum. “This is a dream come true for me to join such a great organization and to partner with this team,” Imbriolo says. “My culinary experiences along the Italian Mediterranean coast have inspired me. I am passionate to deliver a similar experience to our many guests at BRIO and BRAVO.”

Debbie Allison, SVP of Global Supply Chain

Also joining the new team, Allison will work closely with Blum and Imbriolo on FoodFirst’s culinary strategy of sourcing the best ingredients for its chefs and restaurants. She has been a long-time executive in purchasing, previously sourcing high quality and sustainable ingredients for the specialty brands of Darden Restaurants, including Season’s 52 and Capital Grille. She has served as the Director of Supply Chain for Red Lobster, specializing in sustainable seafood. Allison, who is also familiar with suppliers in Italy, will source the best stone-pressed extra Virgin olive oil and the best Italian pastas, along with her skill and passion of sourcing high-quality Italian wines. In the U.S., she will focus on sourcing the freshest plant-based ingredients and highest quality seafood, which are critical to the Italian Mediterranean Way of Cooking.

Angelo Landi, VP of Culinary Operations

Also joining the new team, Landi’s main area of focus will be upgrading the open kitchens for each restaurant and working closely with both the culinary team at the Restaurant Support Center and with each Executive Chef at the company’s 110 BRIO and BRAVO restaurants. Landi, is first and foremost a chef, who created, owned and operated his own restaurant for many years. He also has meaningful experience with multi-unit operations, having held high-level culinary positions at Maggiano’s, Ruth’s Chris and most recently, at True Foods. Landi will set the BRIO and BRAVO restaurant teams up for success with well-designed and well-run kitchens.

Brian Harvey, Director of Culinary Innovation at BRAVO

Chef Harvey has degrees in both the culinary arts and the pastry arts and has been creating innovative Italian food for the company over the past twenty years. His key priority going forward is to bring more freshness and simplicity to the BRAVO menu.

Alison Peters, Director of Culinary Innovation at BRIO

Chef Alison has held key culinary roles in New York and New Orleans before joining BRIO where she has been an integral part of developing various menus. Her key priority going forward is to make BRIO’s menu higher quality and more upscale.

Pam Smith, key nutrition, wellness and menu advisor

Smith, an internationally recognized nutrition expert, has reconnected with. She is the author of several best-selling books including Eat Well, Live Well, a popular TV and radio host and is a wellness and menu coach to legendary professional athletes. Her work with executive culinary teams for hospitality and restaurant brands includes Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, the Walt Disney Company and Darden Restaurants, where she was the co-creator of Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. She has hosted all 22 years of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and co-chairs The Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Menu R&D Collaborative. Smith will advise the FoodFirst Executive Team, and the Culinary Teams at BRIO and BRAVO, respectively.

Food focus

The Amalfi Coast will serve as authentic onspiration for BRIO and BRAVO. The Italian Mediterranean lifestyle, the company said, is exemplified in no better place than the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Antonio Bonchristiano and his wife Patricia have a house on the Isle of Capri, which has been in Patricia’s family for over 200 years. However, during that time, the Mediterranean Diet has never changed. Blum, Imbriolo and Allison, who visit Italy regularly, as well as the entire culinary team who each plan to visit there, will benefit from increased access to local ingredient suppliers, local Italian chefs and local restaurateurs along the Amalfi Coast. This will help BRIO and BRAVO deliver a guest experience in their restaurants that more closely mirrors the authentic culinary tradition from this beautiful region of Italy. 

“This expanded culinary team is highly-energized to bring about major positive change to both the BRIO and BRAVO brands for FoodFirst Global Restaurants,” Blum said. “I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and working hard with this talented group of innovators to provide much better tasting food as well as a much more enjoyable overall guest experience.”