My obsession with Neapolitan Pizza began on our honeymoon trip to the Italian Riviera back in 1995 — Pizzeria Aurora on the Square in Sorrento to be exact. I was working in New York at the time for GE Capital, and all of the natives had warned me that I would hate the pizza in Italy, that it tasted “nothing like New York.” That little pizzeria in Sorrento was where I had my “holy crap!” moment. Each bite of that pizza was a revelation — tangy, milky cheese and tomatoes that tasted like, well, tomatoes. I was blown away.
Life happens, so fast forward 10 years, several “real jobs” and two kids later. I had relocated to Dallas and had a crazy idea to build a wood-burning pizza oven in our backyard. After many failed and incinerated pizzas, I sought out training with L’Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, the American delegation headquartered in Marina del Rey, California. After lots of hands on training, gentle guidance and yelling (“Jay! Pizzas are round!”; “Jay! This is burned”; “Jay! Do it again!”), I began to get it. From there, I knew the path forward. We’d open a Neapolitan pizzeria in Dallas and join the very few, select pizzerias to obtain certification from Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN). After all, how hard could it be?
In February of 2011 we opened Il Cane Rosso in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas — complete with a custom Neapolitan oven, a “fork mixer” imported from Naples and pizza ingredients imported from Campania. We were fortunate enough to be well received by both the public and the food critics. We were making pizza with passion and put great thought into all the components. All of the stars were finally aligned to pursue certification. The initial application is easy — a short form, some photos of the process and ingredients, a few YouTube videos and our application was in the pipeline.
Several weeks later, the e-mail arrived indicating that schedules were being arranged for our pizzeria to be “inspected” by a Master Pizzaiolo from VPN. That’s when the stress and the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. Despite having made thousands of pizzas, hand-selecting our equipment and ingredients, and enjoying good reviews, we were about to be “inspected” by someone who has been making pizza ALL HIS LIFE. I suddenly realized that while certification by VPN is indeed a great honor, it is also a great responsibility and a great commitment. It’s so much more than a business decision or a marketing strategy. We Americans just don’t have the sense of, or respect for, the tradition of pizza making that stretches back hundreds of years.
I don’t think I slept at all the night before the inspection. I barely spoke to the team at our restaurant for the week leading up to it. My anxiety was heightened after picking the inspector up at the airport and discussing the importance of tradition on the ride to our pizzeria.
The inspection lasted all night long and involved all aspects of our operation — ingredients, dough making, ball rolling, dough stretching, peel techniques, oven management, cooking and finishing. It was, to say the least, an incredibly humbling experience. While we had been confident in our ability to reproduce authentic Neapolitan pizza, we quickly realized we had an incredible amount to learn. Although stressful, the inspector taught us a tremendous amount — not only about making pizza, but also about respecting and honoring tradition.
That very same commitment to tradition produced a “holy crap!” moment for me 16 years ago on a warm summer evening in Sorrento. We hope to do the same for even just one of our customers.
If you’d like to see the application video we did for the VPN, you can find it here:http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=canerossotx
My Turn is a monthly guest column. This installment is written by Jay
Jerrier, owner of Il Cane Rosso in Dallas, Texas. If you are interested
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