The Wood-Fired Blog

Traditionalists and Innovators Square Off in Naples Pizza Debate

This from the Guardian in the UK.

Naples chefs take sides in the ‘ultra pizza’ wars

The opening salvo by the innovator:

Enzo Coccia has an evangelical air as he discusses his spring pizza – piled with asparagus, buffalo mozzarella, sheep’s cheese, lard and beans. “They may say I am a heretic, but I just want to experiment,” says the controversial exponent of the Italian trend for what are being dubbed gourmet, or “ultra-pizzas”.

Quickly followed by up with strong disapproval from the establishment:

“There is no such thing as gourmet pizza, we are not OK with this,” said Sergio Miccu, head of the Neapolitan Association of Pizza Makers, which has secured EU certification for the margherita and another Neapolitan standard, the tomato, garlic and oregano marinara.

This article has particular meaning to me, as I have met Enzo a number of times, have been to his pizzeria, La Notizia, and I’ve even ridden across Naples on the back of his motorcycle (which was truly the experience of a lifetime). He’s a great guy. Still, I can see that the battle lines have been drawn, that reputations and power are stake and there is a great deal to be won or lost.

Will Naples become known for “gourmet” pizza, or remain known as the home of the well-made Margherita pizza?

Personally, I am a traditionalist. I feel as though something similar happened in Tuscany with the “Super Tuscan” wines, which to me were simply developed to cater to consumers with taste for “new world” wines from Napa and Australia. I have never enjoyed the taste of these new age wins, and rather, greatly prefer Chianti Classico and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. I once heard a story from the Italian food editor at About.com, where they had a tasting of Super Tuscan wines in Chianti for the leading Florentine food and wine writers. After sipping their Super Tuscan wines so they could write their reviews, the Italians all pushed them away and went back to drinking Chianti. haha. I can truly picture that.

But to give you an idea of where I am coming from as a traditionalist, I don’t think they should even call the food product that California Pizza Kitchen makes pizza. It’s something; it’s edible. But it isn’t pizza.

The Napoli — Pizza Napoletana Made Simple

I’ve thinking about simplicity recently. When done right, a simple product can make your life easier, maybe a little better; it can solve problems; and it can free you up to think about what you want to do—not the device you use to do it. A simple product can be relaxing to look at and a joy to use. A simple product makes innovative design, craftsmanship and sophisticated technology feel effortless.

With that in mind, we have been manufacturing the Napoli oven for some time, and I think it is time to bring some attention to this wonderful oven. The Napoli represents a combination of massive high-tech refractory and insulating materials, innovative design and really nice hand-crafted tile work. One of the aspects of the Napoli that I like the most is how all of these elements come flawlessly together—into great looking and wonderfully performing whole.

If you are a restaurant owner, you can think of the Forno Bravo Primavera as the Napoli’s mini-me; or if you are a homeowner, you can think about the Napoli as a Primavera on steroids (lots and lots of steroids). The production crew affectionately calls the Napoli “the beast”.

Despite their obvious difference in size, the Primavera and the Napoli do have a number of characteristics in common. They are both fully-assembled (set it in place, hook up the chimney and light the fire), they both make Pizza Napoletana easy, and they are both available with, or without, a black powder coated stand. I think they are both successful at being a simple product done right.

Underneath the great-looking tile finish of the Napoli are serious technology, a very well executed vent design (be sure to ask for the true center vent that some of the other guys haven’t figured out yet), massive thermal mass and insulating layers, and perfect oven proportions for Pizza Napoletana (don’t get me started, but if you are interested, you should read our FB Compare analysis of competitive ovens).

But you don’t have to worry about all of that.

And you don’t have to worry about finding a qualified oven installer or a great tile guy. We do that for you.

What you get is an oven that looks great—and it rewards you with perfect Pizza Napoletana. And your customers will love you.

Over the coming months, we are going to be giving the Napoli some additional marketing support and working to get the word out to a broader audience of restaurant owners. Simple can be good.

The Road Less Travelled

We recently returned from a nice two week trip to Italy, where we were able to catch up with friends, eat really well and basically act like tourists. If you haven’t followed Forno Bravo that closely, you might not know that we lived in Florence for three years, and in fact, started the company while living there. It was great to be back, and we were quickly reminded of everything that we loved about Italy—without the day-to-day hassles of paying bills, getting the kids to school, and running a household. The best of both worlds, particularly given how challenging some aspects of Italian life can be.

One thing we have been looking forward to was re-visiting some of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, along with one or two of the more well-known spots. One of the aspects of Italy (and Mediterranean Europe in general) that I really like is the wide range of restaurants accessible to families and children. You aren’t limited to chains (in fact there really aren’t any chains) or restaurants with colorful vinyl booths, chicken nuggets and fries.

We had a really interesting experience many years ago when were eating in a local family owned restaurant on a Friday night, and were a little surprised to see six teenagers take the table next to us. My first reaction was “oh no, they might be difficult”, but 90 minutes later, after we had all had a great dining experience, the kids paid their bill and left a few minutes before we did. Their restaurant skills were impeccable. Over the course of a few years, I finally figured out that many Italian families spend a lot of time in restaurants, and kids get accustomed to enjoying restaurants at a really young age. Or in the case in one of our dinners on this trip, from about two months old. So the kids are really good at it.

On our list were Casale di Ricci (Cinque Vie, 10 minutes south of Florence), La Piazzetta (on Viale Europa in Florence, south of the river), and Pizzeria Rocco (in Gavinana, south of the river on the east side of Florence). They probably don’t show up in guide books or social networking sites, but the food is very good—though it really isn’t great. Plus, you get to see things like the family grandmother looking after the grandchildren, and teenage family members learning to serve tables. I also enjoy eating in neighborhood restaurants where, if we are really lucky, we are one of the few, if not the only, non Italians in the restaurant.

I am happy to say that all three restaurants were still there and still flourishing, and we had a great time each evening.

We also had Il Pizzaiuolo in Florence on our list, along with wanting to enjoy a really nice coffee at Caffe Cibreo — almost next to each other near Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio. Il Pizzaiuolo makes a good Pizza Napoletana and they use great ingredients shipped up from Naples, including Antico Molino Caputo flour. They have a hot wood-fired oven and they use a muscular 280 gram double ball and (if I remember correctly, though I am not 100% certain on this one) they ferment their dough overnight. We have eaten there a handful of times.

On a Thursday in March we set off, parking in the nice new Beccaria parking lot on the east side of town and walking toward the restaurant and Caffe. The mid-morning cappuccino at Caffe Cibreo was excellent, and our daughter had a wonderful hot chocolate. I am lucky enough to have had coffee-making lessons from a world-class barista a number of years ago, and he and I had a coffee at Cibreo—and he thought highly of their work. The coffee was rich and the creme was floating on top of the warm and dense steamed milk. The coffee (as I have been taught) was the perfect temperature; hot on the tongue, but not too hot as to burn the coffee. Cooler than tea.

After taking a minute to enjoy the coffee and take photos of it on our phones, we headed off into Florence for a day of sightseeing. We returned to Il Pizzaiulolo around eight, thinking we were early enough to get a table before the rush. When we asked if they had a table, the head waiter smiled knowingly and asked if we had a reservation, and when we said no — he said that they were booked for the evening. On a Thursday in early March.

Luckily, we had walked past a nice looking trattoria with a roaring wood oven a few minutes walk away, and we headed back. We ended up eating at Da i Boia (Via Oriuolo 58), and having a great time. The head waiter (and perhaps owner) was friendly and outgoing, the walls of the restaurant are painted a deep burnt red, there was jazz music in the background (rare for an Italian restaurant) and the place was buzzing. I really like noisy, bustling restaurants.

We enjoyed the bruschetta pomodoro (pane Toscano with a mountain of nice red tomatoes and good olive oil). The pizza was good — it was the thinner style that you tend to see in Florence with a less pronounced cornicone and less char that a typical Pizza Napoletana. The dough was a little tougher than good Pizza Napoletana and a little less puffy and moist in the crumb, but still — we had a great meal and a wonderful experience.

Walking back to the car a couple of hours later, we went past Il Pizzaiuolo, and the scene was total chaos. There were people outside waiting to get in (despite having reservations), people were walking up and being turned away, and inside the restaurant it was packed to the gills. As we walked toward the parking lot, we all agreed that we were happy with how the evening had gone.

As our trip continued, we noticed the occasional gelateria with a long line. All I could think was that the shop had been written up in a guidebook.

Maybe the perfect restaurant exists in time, not in place. Perhaps we occasionally get lucky and find the perfect restaurant before everybody else does — and we can get a table and enjoy the evening. Interestingly, we were talking about restaurants with some Italian friends a few years ago, and we found that they were being very coy about sharing where they ate. Their view was that they liked their local restaurants and they did not want word to get out and for them to get ruined. They were their own, private finds, and they wanted to keep it that way. Looking back, they might have it right. The anti-social-network.