Q&A with Paul Cataldo
Antonio’s Italian Ristorante — Elkhart, Indiana
How did you get your start with pizza?
I started working in my uncle’s pizzeria when I was 15 on the weekends.
We are immigrants. I was born in Italy. I came over when I was five. My dad and brothers worked in the trailer industry (RV/recreation vehicle industry today). (One brother) said he was tired of the ups and downs (in the RV industry). “I want to start something on my own.” My brother Bruno was also working at a local pizzeria. And, we said, ” Let’s go on this adventure. Let’s take a leap of faith and start our own business.” So, we chose pizza because we were familiar with it. It was Italian. We were Italian. We started with pizza because it is such a universal food. Thin crust, thick crust. If you’re young or old or anything in between. You can feed the masses. You can personalize it. If you are a meat lover or a vegetarian, you can still eat pizza. For us, it was a natural thing to roll into.
What style of pizza do you gravitate to?
We’re going to call it Midwest pizza. Back then we didn’t know anything but Midwest pizza. It’s not too thick. It’s not super thin like a New York pizza. It’s more in between and I think it’s more versatile. You have the opportunity because within the Midwest realm then you have pan pizza, stuffed pizza and now Detroit style is huge. I like the versatility of the Midwest pizza. Myself, I’m gravitating more to an artisan style — something a little lighter.
We do a stuffed pizza, a pan pizza, a Midwest thin-crust. Our crust is such that it is versatile. We’re now getting into some artisan pizza. We’re making smaller batch pizza crust.
What challenges have you experienced with pizza dough and how have you solved them?
We used to think we could make every pizza with the same dough and that’s impossible. The biggest challenge is consistency with dough, keeping it the same all of the time or as close as you can. It’s an artisan thing. It’s a handmade thing. We don’t use mixers. We mix everything by hand. With that said, I brought in a little stand mixer for my small batch dough because it’s a wet dough. It’s high-hydration and it take a little more time. Trying to do too many things with the same dough is impossible. Learning about that is what really opened my eyes. When we opened our pizzeria here, I was 16 years old. I knew nothing about protein levels, hydration, how much gluten does it have. It’s knowledge of what to use for the product for what you want in your finished product. You have to know what the product is that you want to put out and how to achieve it. We’ve changed a little bit and tweaked things for the hot and humid times of the year — wondering why our dough was blowing up.
Where is the future of pizza headed?
Here everyone is opening up craft beer breweries. It’s all small batch, crafty, not mass-produced. I think that is where pizza is moving to. Since I’ve been on the World Pizza Champions, it has exposed me to pizza styles that I never would have or it would have taken a lot longer to get exposed to. It’s like drinking craft beer. Each batch is a little different. Nothing is cookie-cutter in the pizza world. So, I think it’s moving towards the crafty, small batch, artisan style. We are not going to let go of our bread and butter pizzas that feed the masses. But, we like to introduce new styles.