Think you know all about pizza? Meet pizza master Franco Pepe, at the first "Extraordinary Italian Pizza Day" in Los Angeles.

Can you imagine a better Sunday afternoon that one spent eating pizzas from world-class pizzaioli? That’s why I am excited to talk about the Extraordinary Italian Pizza Day, a unique event that took place at DeSano Pizza Bakery in East Hollywood this past Sunday (watch the recorded Facebook live show here).

As part of the “Extraordinary Italian Taste” campaign, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West invited artisan baker and pizza innovator Franco Pepe of Pepe in Grani to display his pizza-making skills. In fact, this was not Pepe’s first time in LA. Back in 2015, he delighted a small crowd with this demonstration at Chi Spacca.

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Pizza master Franco Pepe at work (Photo: T. Vance)

The Extraordinary Italian Pizza Day lineup included other remarkable local pizza artisans: Peppe Miele, Mario Vollera, and other representatives of the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), an organization that protects and promotes traditional Neapolitan-style pizza around the world; Daniele Uditi, of the soon-to-open Pizzana in Brentwood; and lastly, playing on their home turf, the DeSano Pizza Bakery team.

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Franco Pepe has gained many fans in Italy and around the world, and two of his most famous local admirers were also in attendance. I am referring to chef, celebrity restaurateur, and cookbook author Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, Chi Spacca etc.) and Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold (by the way, here’s our interview with Gold). Interestingly, Gold first learned about Pepe’s pizza from his friend Nancy, who often travels across Italy. For the record, Nancy did the same with Emeril Lagasse, introducing him to Pepe’s pizza masterpieces in this episode of the “Eat the World” series.

The complete “cast” of the Extraordinary Italian Pizza Day (Photo: T. Vance)

Franco Pepe: The pizza maestro comes to town

Ask any Italian about their favorite pizza, one likes it thinner, one crunchier, another larger or smaller, but they will probably agree that the region of Campania has the best pizza you will ever taste. Here, pizza is the staple food, served with fresh ingredients, possibly grown in the backyard of the pizzeria or on the volcanic soil of nearby Vesuvius volcano.

And guess where the star of the day, Franco Pepe, is from? Campania, of course. Specifically, his restaurant, Pepe in Grani, is in Caiazzo, a small town approximately 30 miles north of Naples.

It would be reductive to describe Franco’s pizza simply as food. Pepe comes from a family that has been baking for three generations. The passion that this man shows when baking and talking about pizza is inspiring. Franco pointed out how he follows very simple rules to get what many believe is the best pizza. He always works the dough by hand in order to feel when it’s ready. By using local and fresh ingredients, he takes his customers on a journey through the flavors of his home region. He is also committed to rediscover and highlight the ingredients grown by new generations of farmers in a very old land, still full of life.

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Franco promotes the use of old instruments, as the madia—an old wooden kneading trough, in which the pizza dough used to be prepared. At the same time, he carefully adopts new technologies with the goal of always serving the best pizza possible with the ingredients that he selects so carefully.

Jonathan Gold and Nancy Silverton discussing what makes Pepe’s pizza so special (Photo: T. Vance)

Extraordinary Italian Pizza brings everyone together

During the day, we heard some great stories from Jonathan Gold. The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic has tasted his way throughout Los Angeles, in a quest to find the best food in the city. And yet, from the way he talked about Pepe’s pizza, he probably wishes there was something like that in LA! Jokes apart, it was fascinating to hear how his love for food has inspired his career.

The best part of this event, the one that we at Foodiamo were waiting for, was when these great pizza chefs started to show their tricks. In a matter of a few minutes, the air became pungent with the smell of the wood-burning ovens. Before we knew it, dozens of pizzas started rolling out of the kitchen.

Finally… tasting the final product (Photo: T. Vance)

Franco Pepe prepared some of the pizzas that made him famous. The Margherita Sbagliata (literally “margherita made wrong”), a twist on the classic margherita, captured everyone’s attention. For this pizza, he spreads tomato puree and basil reduction on the pizza after it is cooked, in order to preserve the different flavors. This particular pizza is a reminder of how, as Franco Pepe always says, “There is no perfect recipe for pizza “.

And we agree! These great Italian bakers and pizza chefs indeed follow their own original recipes. What they share is a commitment to perfection. Their food is the combination genuine ingredients, passion and, most of all, patience. Their idea of food as a way of life and not just as a commodity motivates us to keep bringing you the best that Italian food culture has to offer. Thanks Franco, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West, and all the other participants!

The “Scampagnata” by Daniele Uditi: grilled zucchini and eggplants preserved in extravirgin olive oil, rucola pesto, and strips of Campania buffalo meat

Photos by T. Vance, courtesy of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West. All rights reserved


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