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A woman in a black collared shirt and with black hair stands in front of a pasta pot in a kitchen. Paolo Jay Agbay

When Life Gave Her Lemons, Janine Bruno Made Pasta

After enduring years of challenges, chef Janine Bruno found peace in cooking recipes from her Sicilian heritage. Now, she’s teaching others what she’s learned.

Homemade by Bruno is not your average culinary venture. It’s not a restaurant, it’s not a gelato counter, and there are no set hours. It is, however, an authentic expression of chef Janine Bruno’s Sicilian roots — a cooking school where Bruno guides you on how to make traditional Italian meals. Want to perfect your trofie twisting technique or make meatballs just like nona used to? Just sign up for a class and gather with other passionate home cooks, eager to learn more about Italian cooking.

Two hands with red nail polish display hand-rolled pasta pieces for a camera on a wooden countertop.

The new kitchen studio in Point Breeze is also where Bruno makes her eclectic batches of uniquely flavored gelato — everything from classic rainbow cookies to Thai chile push pops. Her small batches of gourmet gelato are mostly for restaurant collaborations and special pint releases, but if you take one of her in-person classes, chances are your class will end on a sweet note.

With its charming exposed brick and long wooden counter, walking into Homemade by Bruno is like walking into someone’s home kitchen. “I wanted people to have the experience of coming over for a Sunday dinner,” she says.

An overhead shot of two bowls of pasta, one with pesto and basil and another with red sauce and Parmesan.

Bruno is the owner, teacher, chef, and world-class gelato maker behind Homemade by Bruno. Before opening her new brick-and-mortar location she hosted in-home pasta-making classes, offered catering services, and made batches of inventive gelato flavors for restaurant collaborations throughout the city, around all of which she built engaging audiences through her Instagram and TikTok platforms. She’s gained accolades locally and internationally — her gelato has been named among the best in North America — but most inspiring of all is that she’s self-taught.

To Bruno, learning how to cook was more than just a relaxing hobby; it was a healing journey that helped her through some of the darkest moments of her life. In 2016, Bruno was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to endure a series of surgeries, including a double mastectomy. Five weeks later, right after her 31st birthday and while still recovering from her procedure, her boyfriend of five years abruptly ended their relationship. In July of the same year, Bruno believed that her family’s annual trip to Sicily would be a “light at the end of the tunnel,” but by October, her grandmother had passed away. Then, in the new year, she lost her job. “I felt hopeless. I had no money. I had no career. I had no direction,” she says.

A paper cup of gelato with a wooden spoon and an Italian rainbow cookie on the side.

What Bruno did have was her family. In the wake of all these tragedies, she found comfort in forming connections to her ancestors from Palermo, Sicily through food. Emulating her grandparents’ rituals, she’d go to church on Sunday morning, shop for fresh ingredients in the Italian Market, put on some old music when she got home, and would teach herself how to make homemade Italian meals from scratch, pasta being among her favorites.

Transforming semolina dough into various forms of pasta was a meditative practice. There was something deeply satisfying to her about shaping orecchiette and gnocchi, and finding a rhythm to rolling meatballs and stirring sauce. “It empowered me and gave me purpose,” says Bruno, explaining how connecting to both the ingredients and her Italian heritage continues to be a therapeutic experience.

Two hands with red nail polish roll pasta with a pot with red sauce on the side.

Bruno also continued to travel to Italy, where she immersed herself in the cuisine. These trips not only helped her heal, but also began to change her perspective on life. “Trauma can change things,” says Bruno, explaining that even though she had been to Italy many times, the trips after her cancer diagnosis began to impact her in a different way. She was struck by the slower pace and the stress-free lifestyle that Italians seemed to embrace. “They’re not in a hurry. If they’re eating, they’re going to enjoy their meal, they’re not going to rush to get back to work or a meeting,” says Bruno. Seeing how people lived in Italy made her want to do things that made her happy.

Eventually, in early 2018, Bruno found a job in marketing that offered her stability, but she knew it wasn’t what she wanted to do forever. “I decided that if I stayed in that job for more than two years, I’d be doing a disservice to myself,” she says. “I felt like all that soul-searching and finding myself would be all for nothing if I just rolled over and took some corporate job that paid the bills and was miserable.”

A hand uses a spoon to stir a bowl of pasta with pesto.

Cooking wasn’t a career path that was on her radar until her cousin Alberto visited from Sicily. Witnessing Bruno’s passion for homemade Italian cooking — in contrast to how she felt about her day job — Alberto, with his “intense Italian intuition” as Bruno calls it, proclaimed that she needed to teach people how to cook. “[Italians are] all about doing something meaningful,” she says. “Life is meant to be lived for living, not for working.” Later in 2018, Homemade by Bruno, a brand focused on bringing Italian culinary experiences into people’s homes through pasta-making classes and catering services, was born.

Over the past four years, Homemade by Bruno has truly been a reflection of Bruno following her bliss. It has evolved from in-home parties and catering, to the brick-and-mortar kitchen studio near the corner of 15th and Wharton, which opened March 25 of this year.

Gelato is the most recent Italian craft that she’s added to her repertoire of offerings, and Bruno has a knack for it. The first batch of gelato she ever made was in December 2020 at the Gelato Festival America competition in Los Angeles, California, where she was named the winner of the Popular Jury and was highlighted as a top-six gelato maker by star chef Giada De Laurentiis. Within a year of learning to make gelato, Bruno competed in the Gelato Festival World Masters in West Hollywood, where she placed in the top three out of all competitors from the United States and Canada.

Bruno’s aren’t your usual scoops of gelato. In the past year, she’s partnered with restaurants like Ember & Ash to develop a pig’s blood gelato, as well as with Thai restaurant Kalaya to make a tamarind chile gelato push pop. “I really find a lot of joy and comfort bringing out other people’s traditional flavors through gelato,” says Bruno.” I feel like with Italian food, I keep it really traditional. But gelato is a place where we could do fusion.”

It’s been a long journey for Bruno, and there’s a lot about her project for Philadelphia to look forward to. But Homemade by Bruno is more than cooking classes and fresh gelato — it’s a testament to Bruno’s perseverance. It’s the result of Bruno always betting on herself, even when it seemed like the odds were against her.

Hands twist pasta around a wooden spool.

Homemade by Bruno is located at 1429 Wharton Street. A list of classes taught by Janine Bruno is available online. Sign up for classes at this link.

Homemade by Bruno

1245 South 15th Street, , PA 19146 Visit Website

Ember & Ash

1520 East Passyunk Avenue, , PA 19147 (267) 606-6775 Visit Website

Italian Market

South 9th Street, , PA 19147 (215) 278-2903 Visit Website

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