My love for Pizza Napoletana started the first time I ever tasted a pizza straight from a wood burning oven in Napoli. I had only been in Italy a couple of days and was not prepared for what I was about to eat. These were the early 90’s, before food blogs or the internet. While I knew that Italy was the birthplace of pizza, I was uneducated when it came to the significance of Napoli in the history of pizza. More importantly, I was unaware what made Pizza Napoletana different than the chain pizza I was raised on growing up in the States. My first ever Pizza Napoletana was actually served “libretto” style from a back ally pizzeria near the main train station. Before the invasion of the Euro, you could get a folded up “libretto” margherita pizza with a Fanta Aranciata (aka orange soda!) for about 2,000 Lire or about $1. My love for this pizza started here, folded up pizza in one hand, Fanta in the other and hot San Marzano tomato sauce dripping down my arm. It was quite simply the greatest thing I had ever tasted.
But a deeper passion for pizza was not born until I traveled back to Napoli with the intention of opening a pizzeria in Las Vegas. There I spent time training with Enzo Coccia and Davide Bruno at Pizzeria La Notizia. Spending the mornings training with them and the evenings working and being around the pizzeria is where I developed an intense passion for Pizza Napoletana. This kind of pizza passion is infectious, and it is impossible to experience how proud these pizza makers are without it transferring to others. Among these pizzaioli the history of pizza is taught as we would teach about the Revolutionary War, it is a part of their identity and their heritage and they do not take it lightly.
After spending time with the crew at La Notizia I was convinced that I not only wanted to open a Pizzeria Napoletana, but I wanted to honor the tradition of the product and do everything possible to re-create the exact pizza that has been made on the streets of Napoli for over 300 years. Since the day we opened Settebello our only requirement for choosing which products we use is if it makes the pizza more authentic. Price cannot be an issue. When I sit down with our head pizzaiolo to evaluate products the only question we ask ourselves is if this product makes our pizza more authentic; that is all that matters.
The Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) has provided a strong support structure for those of us who have decided to take the route of making authentic Pizza Napoletana. Initially there were only about 10 members scattered across the US but it provided a strong support group of people all trying to achieve the same goal. The VPN was established by pizza makers in Napoli to protect the integrity of Pizza Napoletana. Certain standards are set up to ensure that members are trying to maintain an authentic product. More importantly, for us it was a fraternity of sorts. Members all seem to help each other out in any way possible and, as new restaurant owners, this was priceless.
Note from Peter: Brad Otton, whose bio is posted in our Contributor's Profile section (some of you may know him as the former starting quarterback and Rose Bowl champion at USC), is one member of a growing community of pizzaiolos committed to the VPN model. We'd love to hear from others and will soon be presenting webisodes featuring some of the other American pizzaiolos who are likewise dedicated to authentic Pizza Napolitano. We all know that there are many ways to make pizza, many versions, but we'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions regarding this particular style. With Brad's help, and the help of the other experts we've met, we'll try to answer your questions and to help keep the discussion going. Feel free to start the thread right here.