People often ask me why I traveled all the way to Naples, Italy to study pizza making. Sometimes, because of the tone of their voices, I have felt these inquisitive folks were leaving other, more pointed questions unspoken:
1. Is pizza making so complex that you need to leave the USA to learn the skills?
2. Aren’t there tons of pizza joints and pizza schools in every town in America that do an adequate job?
3. There is a shortage of pizzaiolos in Italy right now. Are you trying to get work in Italy?
I actually find relevant, pointed questions refreshing–so here are my answers.
Pizza making does involve a complex set of skills, especially if you want to learn how to make truly great hand-made pizza in 90 seconds in an 800 degree wood-fired oven. Although there are a few good pizza schools in the United States, most of the pizza school instructors learned to make great pizza in Italy and almost always they trained, at least partially, in Napoli, the birthplace of pizza. These American classes are relatively short and very expensive. In fact, I found 3 day courses taught by respected experts in New York City and San Francisco that cost more than 10 day classes in Italy taught by a fourth generation pizzaiolo.
One of the most respected experts who offers classes in Italy is Enzo Coccia. According to Travel & Leisure, Coccia’s pizza crusts are “elegant essays in smoke, air, and acidity, precisely matched to their toppings.” I also read in the The New York Times that Coccia trained food network star and NYC restaurateur Donatella Arpaia how to make authentic pizzas in a perfect oven he helped design just for her. Well, that did it for me. I had all the ammunition I needed to defend hopping on an Alitalia flight and heading over to the capital of Campania. Besides, I wanted to go back to Italy, to see Naples, to interact for two weeks with a true Italian and to make food that I love to eat…