Recently I was able to meet pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Antonino Esposito. The introduction to this pizza master maker based in Sorrento, Italy, came from my friend Domenico Bianco, who had showed me some of Antonio's videos. Recently I had the chance to meet and interview the man. Here's what he told us.
Jeremy: How did you become a pizzaiolo?
Antonino: Accidentally. I started to work very early, I worked in construction. One day at lunch my uncle, who had a pizzeria told me he wanted to teach me,I thought it would be rude to say I didn't want too, so I agreed. But the fact is that nobody taught you anything.You just had to stay there and look, that's it. the only thing I used to do is this, the mixing machine was broken so I mix 35 kg dough, daily, by hand!!! One night the pizza chef didn't show up so I was asked to fill in, but it was my first time, so pizzas were squared, rectangular, uneven, burnt but little by little it worked! now I play with shapes because I like it but back then…
Jeremy: Is there a codified set of parameters in making pizza, specifically pizza Napoletana style?
Antonino: What you need to have a codified pizza Napoletana is: of course a very good flour, almost no yeast, a very hot oven (gas or wood but the flame is a must) very good peeled tomato from Campania and the best mozzarella you can get! the pizza Napoletana cooks at 450° Celcius for 90 seconds.
Jeremy: Can pizza be accurately made without being in Naples, anywhere around the world?
Antonino: Yes, you can find best ingredients all over the world. If you want quality now you can!
Jeremy: What category does pizza fall into, food or a bread?
Antonino: Pizza cannot go in any category, pizza is a meal itself, pizza is pizza, that's it!
Jeremy: Is "00" flour the only flour that should or can be used for pizza? And what are you looking for in terms of quality of a good pizza?
Antonino: "00" is the flour that works best for pizza, a type all purpose or bread flour doesn't work that good, the gluten structure doesn't develop well with them. better use them for bread! Even if "00" flour is the most used and the traditional flour for pizza Napoletana, I still like to experiment. I tried spelt, kamut, gluten free flour and now I've made for Molino Pivetti a special mix for pizza called skura made with grano arso, an old traditional toasted flour from Puglia. It's black in color, (not colored) a flour that works amazingly well in pizza !
Jeremy: What are you looking for in terms of quality of a good pizza?
Antonino: knowledge! first of all knowledge, about pizza, naturally but you got to know and to study all the ingredients you want to use. it's your palate, just a matter of taste! Your mouth tells you if pizza is good or it's not.(at least it should)
Jeremy: Is there an evolution in pizza making today,or does it stay rooted in tradition?
Antonino: Unfortunately there's a wrong evolution in pizzas, expecially in Italy. pizzas are becoming just a dish on which you put something fancy. they forgot about the dough!!!
Jeremy: What are the toppings for pizza and are there minimum to how many should be used to garnish a pizza?
Antonino: As I said many pizza chef's are putting everything they may imagine on pizzas but doing it you kill it. You need balance so to appreciate every single taste, every single bite. you don't need fifty different topping's on a pizza. My idea is that you can add two, no more then two or three different topping's plus tomato and mozzarella!
Jeremy: How do you see the role of pizza in America and it's hybridization from it's original roots to those brought by Italian immigrants?
Antonino: Pizza is getting better in America now. It is the most popular dish of the planet and it's growing. Even in the United States you can have a good Napolitan pizza with a proper dough, a proper cooking tecnique and good and quality toppings!
Jeremy: Do you like the pizza made in other countries? What do you dislike about them?
Antonino: Even in Italy pizza is often just a a base to use to put things on it and there is no love or passion, just like factory workers building car's like Ford. You need love and passion to make it good. To make pizza as it should be! Anyway I believe there's still a lot that can be done and I like it!
Jeremy:What is pizza like in other provinces in Italy?
Antonino: I travel a lot and I can say that pizza is different everywhere you go. Everyone is convinced they are the best pizza chef on the planet, but there are a lot of mistakes especially in the dough and cooking. I personally like, Roman pizza al taglio or focaccia Pugliese but they are a completely different thing.
Jeremy: How do you like your pizza, what topping?
Antonino: Marinara, nothing more to say, marinara!!!
Jeremy: Do you go out to eat pizza occasionally, and who's pizza do you like?
Antonino: I don't go out that often unfortunately but I like to go and see what is happening, what other friends or collegues are doing! sometimes I love it sometomes I really don't!
Jeremy: If people want to make pizza at home and are without a wood burning oven, what can they do ti approximate a real pizza?
Antonino: As my friend Fabrizio Mangoni says pizza is freedom and at home, with the proper adjustments, the proper rising the proper cooking you can have an excellent home made pizza!
Jeremy: What are some of the elements in making good pizza dough?
Antonino: Four,most of all, a good water as well, you should use a water you like to drink, old dough and a very very little quantity of yeast. then it's a matter of time and experience
Jeremy: How does sourdough work for pizza dough? Is it too acid, or using pre-ferment or old or is yeast the preferable method?
Antonino: Nowadays, everywhere but expecially in Italy, it seems that you cannot make a proper pizza without the sourdough, everybody's crazy about it. The fact is that sourdough was never used for pizza. it makes sense for bread because it cooks way longer and you eat it even after a few days so the enzymes and the bacterias have time to work. You bake pizza Napoletana in 90 seconds and eat it in 3 minutes. it makes no sense!!! You can use a quality flour, salt, a very little yeast and some old dough!
Jeremy: How long does it take to become a pizzaiolo?
Antonino: There's no time, I met a seventy year old pizza chef who made horrible pizzas and a twenty year old kid who makes excellent pizzas! It's just about your passion, your teacher, your will to learn!
Jeremy: What direction is pizza going, staying in tradition or changing in method, technique, style, or will it always be the same in Naples?
Antonino: Naples will always have an important role in pizza, at least I hope. My idea is that pizza, all over the world, will be always more like Napoletana, (It's the best, of course!) because people now look more and more for good and quality food!