Pineapple on pizza may be the most infamous pizza topping but Master Pizza Chef Renato Viola doesn't turn up his nose at it. "People like new experiences and flavours. They don't want to eat the same pizza always, and preferences are different across the world." The Italian chef believes in the versatility of pizza which makes it easier to adapt to local flavours. "Pizza is pizza in every part of the world, but you can modify it and make it better with local produce," says Viola.
Instead of being uppity about a pizza's authenticity outside Italy, the 37-year-old chef emphasises on the use of high-quality ingredients. Thanks to improved international trade and availability of Italian produce, "We can make a good pizza anywhere in the world," he says. The flour for Viola's dough and tomatoes for his sauce are sourced from Italy.
All About the Dough
No matter where in the world he is making pizza, "the dough is always the same," says Viola. The only authentic feature he doesn't compromise on is the crust. "It must be thin and crispy," he says. For this, he recommends that the dough is hand-stretched, cooked in the perfect oven and made with only the best flour. Despite all-electric ovens, the chef prefers the traditional wood-fired oven. "It gives the pizza a different flavour and unique taste," says Viola. Meanwhile, the pizza sauce is modified according to local tastes. "I know that Indians like garlic, so for India, I add more garlic in the sauce."
While he runs his own trendy pizzeria, Mister-01, in Miami Beach, the trained pizza instructor also acts as a consultant for new pizzerias. Drawing upon his knowledge of crafting the authentic Italian pizza, the chef adds a modern twist to the classic by combining traditional pizza-making methods with new flavours. In India, he is a consultant to Krishna Gupta's 1441 Pizzeria, named after the longitude and latitude coordinates of Naples in Italy where the first wood fire pizza was made. When Gupta tasted pizza in Florence, he took it upon himself to bring the traditional pizza to India at an affordable price. Viola's expertise has helped put together the homegrown pizzeria's diverse menu and recipes and train the staff with his pizza-making expertise.
Business of Pizzas
Viola's love for pizzas goes back to when he was growing up in Italy, where it is tradition to wake up in the wee hours to prepare fresh pasta, lasagna and pizza. At the age of 4, he began accompanying his mother in the kitchen. Recollecting his first memory of eating a pizza, he says, "I was completely in love with the concept of pizza and the fresh flavours. For one week, all I did was eat pizza." His first stint as a professional in a pizzeria was at 11 and by 18 he was an award-winning chef.
Chef that Entertains
At 14, he began experimenting with pizza acrobatics in his garage, training every night to perfect his dough tossing skills. "When all my friends were buying their first motorcycle, I bought my first mixer." Pizza acrobatics takes a lot of training, informs the chef, but the secret lies in the ingredients used for the dough. "Apart from flour and water, we add extra salt to make the dough more elastic." By 2006, he had won his first world championship for pizza acrobatics. He clarifies that acrobatics is simply an additional feature of the pizza-making process and does not add or take away from the taste. He enjoys the process because "it is a form of entertainment for the guests and adds a fun element to the pizza-making process".
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