La Mia Pizza
THE BEST PIZZA IN NEW ZEALAND
Francesco Acri ( 2015 )
After 13 years in the Italian Navy, emigrating and opening a small local pizzeria in New Zealand was perhaps was a journey full circle, connecting Francesco back to his time working in his Uncle’s small pizzeria after school, and his Italian passion for good food. We caught up with New Zealand’s own Napoli pizza chef and 2015 Pizza Champion Winner, Franscesco Acri from Settebello in New Lynn, Auckland, to learn about making the best pizza.
( Pizza is probably one of our first experiences of falling in love with ‘international’ cuisine. However a significant number of us pizza lovers have never had the blessed opportunity to experience authentic pizza. Pizza originating from Naples, Italy in the late 18th Century – Pizza Napoletana.)
SO WHAT MAKES PIZZA NAPOLETANA SO SPECIAL?
A beautifully consistent, super thin base A 1-2cm crust, ‘cornicione’, with springy, light aeration, soft and gently chewy. Wood fired in a super hot oven for 60 to 90 seconds, giving it a slightly charred and smokey flavoured crust, and perfectly cooked toppings. Often simple but premium toppings e.g. Magherita – tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil
Pizza Margherita ( The Queen )
FRANCESCO, WHERE DID YOU PIZZA JOURNEY BEGIN?
I left Italy and quit my job in the Italian Navy in 2010. I came here with my family and not many ideas, but after travelling the world for 11 years with the most beautiful ship in world, Amerigo Vespucci, I decided to rest my sea legs.
Coming from Napoli it was very tough for me at the beginning – with the huge difference in culture, so I thought ok I will bring some of my culture here (that’s what Pizza Napoletana is for me). I worked for around a year and then in 2012 I opened my own pizzeria, Settebello, bringing my Napoli to New Lynn.
Achieving first place in the competition (Auckland Food Show Pizza Championship) was due to wanting to challenge myself, to concentrate on the competition, forgetting for a moment your day to day job.
Italian Sail Ship Amerigo Vespucci
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘MODERN’ PIZZA AND AUTHENTIC PIZZA ORIGINATING FROM NAPLES?
For sure the technique to make a pizza Napoletana is different compared to the others, but the main thing that distinguishes pizza Napoletana from the others is the history. When it comes to talking about pizza, Neapolitan people take it very seriously. Let’s don’t forget that the first Margherita was invented in Naples in 1889. Today this pizza is still around thanks to some big Associations like Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani ( which I'm also a member ) in Napoli. They work very hard to protect the identity of this pizza, but also because a such simple pizza with such few ingredients, if cooked in the right way, is absolutely divine.
HOW CAN WE TELL A GREAT PIZZA?
Well, let’s start by saying if the pizza is not perfectly round don’t worry too much. Actually, it’s a good sign, that means its not coming from a tray or a box, but hand stretched. There should be air bubbles in what I call ‘Cornicione’ (which is the crust). If you see many of these irregular holes in the crust, that means the dough is well made, and honestly a crust like that I really suggest to eat it and not throw away, it will help you to digest. Also the quality of the ingredients, the topping must be good obviously. Wait at least 12 -15 hours if you don’t feel bloated and thirsty that means your pizza chef has done a brilliant job with his dough.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER MAKES THE BEST PIZZA?
What makes the best pizza in my opinion is how much of yourself you put in. Having the knowledge of what you are doing without neglecting the small details, sometimes they are bigger than you think.
AS NZ’S BEST PIZZA CHEF, WHERE DO YOU GO FOR PIZZA AND WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE?
Well, my favourite is my own, but I really like Dante’s and Pizza Pomodoro in Wellington. Kevin from Dante’s and Massimo from Pizza Pomodoro are good friends.
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST TIPS TO MAKE GREAT PIZZA AT HOME?
First; make your dough and let it rise for the right amount of time – min 8 hours up to 20 hours (I prefer 20, because there is another process that people can’t see in the dough and its the maturation) Second; the temperature – choose a room with a constant temperature to place your pizza dough & let it rise. At this stage the amount of yeast that you put into your dough is very important. Consider that at a temperature between 22 to 25 degrees, if you put 3g of fresh yeast per litre of water, then your dough will be ready after 8 – 10 hours. Third; cooking – most common ovens at home are electric/gas (220-240 degrees), and won’t reach high temperatures like a wood fired oven (450 degrees), so when you cook your pizza I suggest adding just a little a bit of tomato initially, and then 5 min before your pizza is ready, add the rest of the tomato, mozzarella and toppings. In this way none of your ingredients will dry out, burn or over
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF COMPETING IN THE 2016 WORLD CHAMPION COMPETITION IN ITALY?
For me it was the first time, and I can say that the most challenging aspect was competing with hundreds of other pizza makers coming from all over the world. I placed in the top 30, so it was not bad.
AN AWARD WINNING NEAPOLITAN PIZZA HAS VERY SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS – WHAT ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE?
There are 2 requirements that are important to achieve Neapolitan Pizza STG. First; is the cooking – the pizza must be cooked in a wood fired oven between 60 to 90 seconds. Second and the most important; the dough – it has to be the right weight, the right temperature and obviously perfectly raised. In the NZ competition I really focused on the dough, and I think what helped, was the fact that I didn’t use a mixer for kneading, only my hands, and choosing the right flour.
WHAT INGREDIENTS DO YOU SOURCE LOCALLY OR FROM ABROAD?
Ingredients are very important, I really suggest not to be cheap on ingredients as they can make a huge difference on your final product. My menu has a big range of ingredients so I get a few imported like Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Buffalo Ricotta, Pesto, Buffalo Mozzarella, Smoked Mozzarella, San Marzano Peeled Tomato etc. I also get heaps of local ingredients which are very good; Withflour, I really don’t go for a brand i.e which one is most famous. It’s more important to check what the flour contains; protein, water absorption, stability time, dough strength and dough extensibility etc. so you know how to use your flour. Unfortunately for home use, you can’t find all this information in a supermarket, but you can always request a technical data sheet of the flour from the company. Some people think that to make the best pizza you need Italian flour. Absolutely not, although we do have a few really good Italian flours in New Zealand.
HOW DOES NZ CONTEND ON THE WORLD STAGE?
I think we are still a small contender compareD to other countries. I was the only one to represent New Zealand this last April, while other countries had a proper teams. Australia as an example, its so close to us but miles ahead when it comes to pizza. How could we do better? Spreading the word and for sure the media, it’s a powerful tool to develop this industry. In this country we need big companies to invest in initiatives regarding this industry; be it competitions, shows, promotions etc etc. Take advantage of the people passionate about this world, and people that love this job like me, to be together and share everything about this industry without thinking that they are the only one with the secret recipe. So, share share share!
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE NZ’S BEST PIZZA CHEF?
…if there is passion there is no sacrifice, but I can say yes it takes up a lot of time. It’s a big commitment because the expectations are high and you need time and hard work to satisfy.
WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND AS THE BEST PIZZA TO TRY FOR; AUTHENTICITY, SOMETHING NEW OR SPECIAL?
If you come to Settebello easily you can find pizza with a combination of authenticity, new and special. ..
Few months ago I was having a beer with a friend in a Pizza Bar and after one customer had his pizza he went to the chef and said: “wow congratulations very good pizza” and the pizza chef replied “Thank you Sir, we use only fresh ingredients here, especially the dough, its fresh dough just made half an hour ago….” No Way! no short cuts are allowed when you are making pizza for me. The dough is everything you have to give the right time to let it rise. So now you say ok, but what’s surprising or funny about this story? Well the funny thing it was in Italy and honestly no surprises, you can have a really bad Pizza in Italy too.
Many thanks Francesco for your precious time, sharing your knowledge and passion for great pizza.You really have to taste authentic pizza to understand the sensation, so if you’re in Auckland make sure you book a table @ Settebello!
By Best By Peers