MY PIZZA & ME
Excerpts from an interview
To make pizza in a wood oven good, there is so much attention that needs to be paid, constantly be aware of how each pizza is baking, if you need to add wood, if you need to not add wood. And you just see where the hot spots are in the oven and just keep pushing it throughout the night. I mean that takes years and years and years to learn and it takes a 100% dedication throughout the night and focus.
Me, the guy that works in the kitchen, and the waiter, the three of us, that’s it. We did every single thing in here, tiled the floor...The counter here I designed it and had a woman in Chinatown weld it. I actually put the marble on top of it.
You know, we get people to come in, like last week, some woman was like Oh, the dough doesn’t taste the same. What are they doing?, and the waiter is like Who’s THEY?. There is no they!
So I would hope that when people come in here, they really try to open their eyes and open their mind and see that...you know what?...you might not like the waiter, you might not like me, but I just hope that you come in and you see that we really don’t compromise and that we really do care and we’re not trying to get anything over on anybody. It’s the truth, it’s not done in any way but with love [...].
On the menu we have just four kinds of pizza.[...] They are basically all the same, they all taste really different though.
It’s not that I am against other toppings on the pizza, it’s that I feel like once you open that door, then there is no limit. Honestly, I don’t know how you can control all those different elements and have them be of a high quality. I wish that I could grow everything myself and control them from start to finish, but I can’t.
I mean, I think you start to loose a grip on the quality of everything little by little by little, and also, more importantly, the taste, you know, it’s really difficult to have something taste beautiful, interesting, and, you know, make you wanna come back again and again, and crave a taste for when there is like, four ingredients in it.
None of these old time pizzerias in New York City, in my opinion, make good pizza, not one of them. They all stink. You know, they learned how to make it 30 years ago and if anything changes or ingredients change over time, they don’t even know why, they just keep rolling with it. It might have been good when the original guy started it, and he was doing it to survive and it was his life, but at this point...pfff...
The pizzerias that are newer in the city, too, the same thing, I mean you know they have multimillionaires back and they get some guy that make pizza..., you know, and maybe the guys are from Italy...Whoopee. If you ever see anybody in America that says that they’re from Naples and they are a pizza maker, if they were making pizza in Naples, they were making it at a rest stop on the Autostrada, because, if you’re a pizza maker in Naples, you have like the best jobs in the city, it’s like one of the highest paid jobs, they’re super respected and they are in demand. They are not gonna come to America to make 10 bucks an hour and work 15 hours a day and be treated like a third class citizen.
I’ve had four ovens...actually, I think I’ve had five, ‘cause I had one in my backyard that me and my father built. That was my first one, and we built that after I was trying to make pizza on the floor of the fireplace in the living room...and that didn’t work too well either.
You can’t make, in my opinion, the same flavor with coal or with gas, There is nothing beautiful about it. The heat from a coal oven is not gentle; it’s very dry and very overpowering. With a brick oven you have the heat from the fire, the direct heat from the fire, you have the hot air and then you also have the floor and the walls all being hot.
I opened here and had a guy from Naples build me an oven. When he finally finished it and as soon as I fired it up, I knew that it wasn’t built right. It’s a shame, I mean, it cost a ton of money. It was still better than any other oven that I had. It took us two days to get it out with a sledgehammer. We ripped the front of the store off, I ripped all the walls out so that I could get everything out of here, threw the oven in the dumpster, and got another one.
The oven that I have now is the oven that I wanted since I was a little kid. I went to Italy in April of last year, and went and met this man that built this oven in Naples. [...] Every element of the oven works perfectly together, [...]every single detail is perfection. [...] I am so happy with it, it’s really beautiful.
The taste of the dough, the whole structure in the crust, it should have like a sweet kind of smell, it shouldn’t smell of yeast, it should smell of the wheat. The ingredients on the pizza, it should be lightly topped, everything should be kind of an even balance, you know, and playing off each other. There shouldn’t be where, you know, you hide the dough with - like - ricotta, pesto, black olives and everything else under the sun. That’s of mediocre quality, there should be beautiful dough, baked properly, with some seasoning and that’s how you can tell – to me – a good pizza.
The hardest to source is the buffalo mozzarella. [...] There is always a problem, at least once a month it doesn’t come for one week, dates are falsified. It depends who you know in Italy, how they stamping it...
Even when the buffalo mozzarella is not at its freshest, it still melts differently, and looks different on a pizza than fresh mozzarella, which is called fiordilatte in Italy.
When you take it out of the oven, the pizza looks like it has some life, it’s shiny, it’s glistening, the cheese usually has these beautiful little shades of a little bit of greenish to it.
There are some people in America that are trying to make buffalo mozzarella, but I’ve tried both of them, there is one in California and one in Vermont, and I love the fact that they’re doing it, I really wanted to use it, to support it, but the taste... it’s just not there. It just doesn’t have the magic that the buffalo mozzarella does from Caserta or Battipaglia outside of Naples.