What it's Like

How to Survive Neapolitan Pizza Boot Camp

Jordan Wallace, photo by Joe Friend, www.iamjoefriend.com

When I moved back to Colorado after culinary school in Italy, the first job I had was with Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to sous chef. After about three years, they started talking about expanding, initially to open a café, and then they decided a pizzeria would be more fun.

It took two years to come to fruition. In the initial planning process, the owners came to me and said: “You’re going to live in Naples. You already know the language; you’re going to learn how to make pizza, learn about the ingredients, the culture. You’re going to run the pizzeria.” I immediately accepted the position and moved to Naples, but did not know what to expect. I assumed it would be a similar cultural experience to the one I had living in Torino. I was wrong.

Before I left, we went online and found a pizzaiolo named Enzo Coccia who teaches the art of Neapolitan pizza at a place called Pizzeria La Notizia, one of the best in Italy. He’d been a pizzaiolo for some 25 years. He’s also a historian of Neapolitan food, and very knowledgeable about the roots and traditions. The plan was for me to work with him for a few months, and meet people to get different perspectives on pizza. I learned everything: when Neapolitan pizza was invented, the history, how to make the dough, work the dough, do the toppings, work the oven, how to maintain the temperature of the wood-burning ovens and more.

I trained with Enzo for three months. We made the dough by hand every day, twice a day, which took 45 minutes each time. The idea was to get in touch with the dough. It’s extremely hard work. My hands become so sore I almost couldn’t work—it was too painful. When I put the dough on the marble and kneaded it with my knuckles, they start to bleed a bit.

The same guy makes the dough every single day in a lot of the pizzerias in Naples. They don’t use a set flour amount, they make their dough by eye and feel, and they change the proportions based on the weather. When it’s warmer, you need less yeast for the rise. The more humid it is, the more flour you need to make the structure you’re looking for. After getting in touch with the dough, you can make much larger batches with a mixer. They are particular about how you do it; it takes tons of practice and weeks just to learn how to ball the dough properly. Once you’ve done that, you learn to slap or extend the dough.

Once you master the dough, you move onto the oven. You have to be able to control the wood-burning fire, adding and adjusting logs, like building a campfire to maintain the heat of 1000 degrees F. The logs create a coal bed, which heats the stone floor and that's what cooks the bottom of the pizza. But you have to watch where the fire is. The side of the crust that faces the fire always cooks faster. If you build the fire directly in the back, the heat will escape through the front door.

Then, you have to balance the floor temperature with the air temperature to cook the pizza properly, even though the floor temperature from back to front of the oven can vary by 200 degrees. If you put a pizza in and the floor temperature is too hot, the bottom will be done and finished long before the top.

I remember seeing the pizzaiolos put pizzas on a metal peel and hold them in the air because the bottom was done. Now imagine doing that to four pizzas at once, about a minute and a half each. I learned how to put three to four pizzas on the peel, and in the oven, pulling them in and out while spinning them.

The key to mastering pizza is repetition. If you don’t continue to do it, you lose it. I kept making pizza as much as I could until we opened and started training, so I wouldn’t lose anything.

When I came back from Naples, I worked at two other pizzerias in the U.S. I still didn’t feel ready to run my own; there was no way to feel ready. I knew I had to train 13 other guys to do the same thing, but in just two weeks, so that was the scary point.

We opened Pizzeria Locale in 2011, but we are still learning every day. Every time I make a pizza, I try to refine the technique. People who have been making pizza for 25 years probably do the same thing.

— Jordan Wallace, Pizzeria Locale, Boulder, Colo.

Re: Pizza dough
Originally posted by Cathy Shyne
I have a pizza place on Kauai, I was curious what kind of flour do you use, to make the best dough. Would greatly appreciate your feed back Thank you
hi gluten

9/4/2013 1:30 PM Posted By: Jim Lacona
Re: Pizza Dough
Originally posted by Daniel Balderas
I'd like to know what kind of flour you use to make the best dough. Thank you.
hi gluten

9/4/2013 1:30 PM Posted By: Jim Lacona
Why can't we get good pizza in South Dakota!!! Help us Please!

8/16/2013 3:09 PM Posted By: chef M.J. Adams
[No Subject]
That a boy keep killing it.

8/8/2013 1:01 PM Posted By: justin schreiber
best dough
is not the flour it's the temp of water with the yeast & not to over spin the dough

5/13/2013 11:17 AM Posted By: mike pilato
it's not that difficult to make pizza, the magic in making it is one part knowledge & one part common sense!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5/13/2013 11:15 AM Posted By: mike pilato
Pizza Dough
I'd like to know what kind of flour you use to make the best dough. Thank you.

5/9/2013 9:31 AM Posted By: Daniel Balderas
Pizza dough
I have a pizza place on Kauai, I was curious what kind of flour do you use, to make the best dough. Would greatly appreciate your feed back Thank you

4/24/2013 10:46 PM Posted By: Cathy Shyne

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