Daniel Pelosi, or @grossypelosi, talks about the secret sauce that has launched his new career in the food space.
IF YOU FOLLOW Dan “Grossy” Pelosi 05 IA on Instagram, you might think you know all there is to know about him. After all, he’s been documenting his entire life online for years. On the surface, his story is a familiar one—a pandemic-induced hobby (cooking) becomes a soulful full-time gig. But when you look at his analog life, the narrative isn’t as prescriptive as you would think. Turns out, there’s an untold tale here.
First, let’s talk about the name. No relation to the former speaker of the House, Nancy, “Grossy” was inspired by the 1990s movie Never Been Kissed. In it, Drew Barrymore plays an undercover reporter who while infiltrating her old high school reverts to her adolescent persona, unfortunately nicknamed Josie “Grossie” Geller. Pelosi’s friends couldn’t help themselves from making the obvious rhyme. But unlike the movie script, in real life the nickname was made in loving jest and Pelosi fully embraced it, making it his handle for every one of his digital personas.
“What I like about it is that it’s not serious, it has a sense of humor to it. People are so nervous about getting a recipe right, but you’ve got to mess up, that’s how you learn. My name is inherently stupid. I’m not going to come in and tell you how to sous vide. Let’s make some ‘manigot’ and we’re good to go,” he says.
And this is where we start to see what sets Pelosi apart from others who became internet famous somewhat overnight. He embraces the messy. His persona is not carefully constructed to convey an unachievable state of perfection. It’s actually the opposite. He encourages everyone to dive into a recipe and perhaps make mistakes to discover the joy in the process, even if the end result isn’t pretty or all that photogenic. Some of his most popular recipes come from his grandfather “Bimpy,” who makes pasta e piselli with just four ingredients, none of which are salt and pepper.
To Pelosi, food is family. Quite literally. In addition to Bimpy, he takes inspiration from his mom, his dad, his Uncle Phil, his Grandma Millie, his Aunt Chris and his sister, sometimes directly crediting a recipe to them. Many of his recipes are adaptations of what these beloved relatives fed him growing up.
To really know Pelosi is to return to his American-Italian-Portuguese childhood home in Waterbury, Connecticut. Most days he helped his mom cook at the counter, and on Sunday mornings, his dad and grandpa cut coupons at the dining room table, a loaf of bread between them. Sharing any meal could be a mix of aunts and uncles and cousins, and inevitably the family would discuss what to eat at the next meal. Pelosi was a self-described indoors kid and spent afternoons running errands with his mom to Sherwin-Williams, where he would select a color to repaint his bedroom for the fifteenth time or wallpaper to redecorate the dining room for the fourth time. He made clothes for his Barbies at his grandma’s house and cakes with his grandpa. Home wasn’t a building but rooms where loving relatives embraced Pelosi for everything that he was and showed their love through food. When Pelosi came out, his family was totally accepting. His mom asked if he would have two men on his wedding cake.
So it’s no surprise that when he went to RISD, he was homesick. In fact, he often returned to Connecticut on the weekends, much to the bewilderment of his peers, college students who perhaps used their undergraduate education as a way to escape their families. Despite his longing for home, Pelosi thrived at RISD.
“I was obsessed with it. I loved being in my studio and being in my classes,” he says. Initially, he wanted to become a graphic designer, but one of his printmaking professors, Ken Wood, forecast a different future for him.
“[Ken] used to design stores for Williams-Sonoma and said he saw that as a career for me. It was like he read my soul, the amount of time I spent in Williams-Sonoma with my mom, eating bread and olive oil at the cash register ... it was incredible. I had always loved interior design but I wasn’t interested in building from the ground up. I was interested in reusing spaces that already exist. So I pivoted to interior architecture, and that really became my thing,” Pelosi says.
Pelosi embraced all that RISD had to offer and gave it everything he had. He spent a winter session in Amsterdam and did the European Honors program in Rome. Living abroad meant diving deeper into his education while also learning how to be away from his family and form a home of his own.
Here the story might become familiar to Grossy followers, because Rome was where the now-beloved foodie personality began to take shape. Every day on the way home from his internship, Pelosi would stop at the famous Campo dei Fiori farmers market and stock up. He would return to the kitchen he shared with ten other students, loaded down with ingredients, and everyone would gather for a meal. Pelosi summoned the collective energies of his grandma, his aunties and his mom and commandeered that kitchen, giving everyone a task. He owned the kitchen. And suddenly a switch was flipped.
Pelosi learned that he didn’t have to return to Connecticut. He could bring “home” to wherever he was—through food. When he graduated from RISD and got a job at Gap’s store-design department in San Francisco, he would make a big batch of marinara when he missed his family. He says it’s the best scented candle, because it makes your home smell like marinara sauce for a whole week. He also made meatballs and lasagna and other foods from his childhood, but this time with his own deliberate spin.
He also vigorously pursued his career. He was at Gap for six years, doing everything he “could possibly do, running around and welcoming myself into meetings that I wasn’t invited to. I used the creative problem-solving that I learned at RISD to change people’s minds and be hyper-creative,” he says.
From there he accepted a job as a creative director for Wieden+Kennedy, in Portland, Oregon, creating experiential retail spaces for brands like Coca-Cola, Converse and Nike. Then he finally returned east to New York City, where he worked for Ann Taylor and helped launch their brand Lou & Grey. By now it’s 2020.
Here is another well-known chapter to Grossy fans. During the start of the pandemic, he was housebound like we all were, furloughed from his job. He continued to document his life on Instagram to his 3,000 followers, but instead of photos showing the dinner parties he hosted, he began to post about every single meal he made, every single day.
“I was posting nonstop. It didn’t matter if only five people saw it. I had to post. I’ve always done it. It was like I was in ten years of boot camp sharing myself on Instagram until it finally made sense,” he says.
Finding one’s self inside the comfort of one’s home made sense not just to the followers, whose numbers began to increase, but to Pelosi himself.
“I’ve always created a really great home for myself that I feel comfortable in. Turns out a lot of people don’t know how to cook and don’t know how to make a home for themselves that they enjoy. So I was able to become a resource for people. They were responding to the way that I live my life and my sense of humor. People would message me and tell me that I was keeping them alive. But they were also keeping me alive,” he says.
Pelosi attributes a lot of his success as Grossy not to his cooking but to his art and design background. His followers are drawn to his personality and his homestyle recipes, which are certain to elicit audible sighs of pleasure with each bite. But more intuitively, what is compelling about Grossy is the aesthetic—it’s bright, it’s joyful, it’s humorous. It is a well-designed and well-executed brand with a distinctive personality.
His brand doesn’t look like all of the filtered and choreographed content on social media. It’s polished, for sure, but in a way that appears genuine and natural. It’s that special magical sauce that makes people respond to Nike, to Target, to beloved brands that know how to speak to us.
For years Pelosi created identities for brands, and then one day he was the brand. But behind this well-crafted brand is a guy with a family, a boyfriend and a fully stocked pantry—into which he welcomes us all.
When you peek behind the Grossy curtain, you still get Dan, a real, funny, loving, warm and boisterous guy at whose table you would love to pull up a seat.
“The fact that I went to design school and understand creative problem-solving and had a career in retail and marketing—all of those things make up for whatever I lack in the kitchen. I was able to brand myself, and I think that is a differentiator. I created a space for people that had a point of view. I was using all the same tools that I did at RISD and throughout my career, but I am the brand. It’s allowed me to be so authentic,” he says.
In 2021, Pelosi was able to quit his job and focus on Grossy full-time. His first cookbook, Let’s Eat: 101 Recipes to Fill Your Heart & Home, hit shelves in early September, and as of our interview, he had twenty-three stops planned on his book tour, many of which were already sold out. He now has a book agent, a manager and an assistant and is repped by WME, an agency behind almost any A-lister you can name. He’s been on The Rachael Ray Show, Good Morning America and The Drew Barrymore Show. He currently has 146,000 followers.
“If I can build a community of joy and happiness and goodwill, that’s incredible. If I can do it through food—that’s a dream,” he says.
If you look beyond the kitchen, Pelosi’s love of art and design is obvious. His former Brooklyn apartment was so well decorated that it was featured in media outlets like Domino and Curbed. There was art everywhere, most notably covering an entire wall across from his large dining table. Each piece of art in his home has a story. When people ask him where he gets it all, he has no single answer, because it comes from everywhere—from markets, vintage shops, his friends’ children.
“I think the value comes in being able to say ‘This piece of art is from my college friend, it’s one of a kind.’ That very much relates to the recipes I make, like ‘This is Bimpy’s pasta.’ The storytelling is why these things are so special to me,” he says.
Luckily for him, his college friends happen to be artists, some of whom have risen to acclaim. For instance, the large abstract painting of an interior—that’s by Shara Hughes 04 PT. Or the art that always gets the most DMs: an unfinished painting of two men wrestling, by his college friend Rory Lustberg 04 PT, who was planning to throw it away. There’s Lauren Geremia’s 04 PT painting of a grocery store, Brianna Ashby’s 04 IL illustration of Nathan Lane’s drag character in The Birdcage.
Although Pelosi is mostly known for his recipes, he calls himself a food and lifestyle creator and hopes to—not shift, exactly—but return to interiors in the future. “I think about design all day long. I’m designing a lifestyle,” he says. And this is the final thing that sets Pelosi apart: he didn’t hate his day job. He loved being a creative director with a team who, under his guidance, made some really cool spaces. He didn’t leave a soul-sucking career to find his true self. It’s more like the world stopped and found him.
He just recently moved out of the well-decorated Brooklyn apartment into a smaller space and bought a house in upstate New York. It’s by no means a fixer-upper, but Pelosi will certainly move his personality in through wallpaper, paint and lighting. He wants to redo the kitchen and have a big garden. And of course he’ll share everything online.
These days, though, he is a bit more thoughtful about what he shares. Writing his cookbook was challenging because it took two years, and in that time he wasn’t able to share everything he was doing. He had to keep all 101 recipes secret. He also wants to connect “Grossy” with “Dan.”
“I’m always going to figure out ways to share information. I’m still working through the best method to do it. Managing how much information people want from me has been a really interesting creative solution,” he says.
Pelosi’s cookbook Let’s Eat hit shelves on September 5, 2023 and debuted at number four on the New York Times bestseller list.
Words by Abby Bielagus. Pelosi photo by Andrew Bui, which is also the back cover of his newly released cookbook, Let’s Eat.