In their Cotswolds smokehouse, three Italian friends produce sustainable smoked salmon that A-list chefs can’t get enough of
It takes some nerve, at the age of 23, to turn down a job from one of Britain’s most prestigious food companies and ask its CEO to help you start a business. Yet that’s what Vincenzo Gentile did when he persuaded the boss of Daylesford Organic to let him move into the vacant smokehouse behind its flagship Cotswolds farm shop to launch a smoked salmon brand. “I was naïve and a little arrogant,” says Vincenzo, looking back on the early days of Smokin’ Brothers, the business he co-founded in 2017 with close friends Iacopo Fincanto and Alessandro Basaldella. “I had no idea how to run a business, but smoked salmon was my passion and I was confident it would go somewhere.”
His passion did him proud. Smokin’ Brothers’ salmon now appears on menus at Michelin-star restaurants and counts Marco Pierre White and Michel Roux Jr as fans. Their fish, infused with oak, beech and juniper smoke, has a buttery chew, woody aroma and subtle tang of cold, clean sea. “As Italians, we prize simplicity and quality in food,” says Iacopo, who met Vincenzo when they were teenagers in his home town of Padua, northern Italy. “We wanted to take smoked salmon back to its origins as a luxury product.”
A SLICE OF LUXURY
In Italy, smoked salmon is a delicacy usually reserved for Christmas. “I remember eating it as a starter on 24 December, when it’s traditional to eat a seafood dinner,” says Alessandro, who grew up in Venice. When he moved to London, aged 19, he couldn’t believe his luck when he discovered that the warehouse in Stoke Newington, where he shared digs with a community of Italians – including Vincenzo – had a trendy salmon smokery in its garden.
Alessandro joined new flatmate Vincenzo at the smokery, run by a Norwegian artisan with a starry clientele. By the time their boss had moved into asmokehouse at Daylesford Farm and then vacated it, the friends had moved on to other jobs. But when Vincenzo, who was working at Daylesford’s Notting Hill farm shop, heard his employers had an empty smokehouse, he took the bold step of emailing them.
“They offered me a job smoking salmon, but I didn’t want to be their employee,” Vincenzo remembers. His audacity earned him six months to prove he could make a product fit for Daylesford’s shelves: “I was so stressed, working relentless hours, almost living at the smokehouse, because I’d invested all my savings in this business.” When he made his first sale to a small local restaurant, he wept with joy: “People had told me I was crazy, that I had no idea what I was doing. When the first chef said yes to the salmon, it was the greatest happiness.”