A pizza revolution is taking place as chefs deliver more topnotch takes on family favourites.
Australians have a renewed taste for pizza, with leading chefs delivering
Keep it simple. It has become a mantra for cooking, but never is it more true than when talking pizza.And it’s the approach taken by the leading chefs who turn their hands to pizza as well as home cooks.
“Keeping pizza simple is not only key to a great pizza, it’s also the reason there is so much interest both in restaurants and at home for pizza again,” says chef Luke Powell,co-owner of Newtown pizza sensation Bella Brutta.
The country has gone pizza crazy. We queue up in droves for the best in town and we buy pizza ovens and search online for recipes more than ever before.And it seems our taste for quality pizza has grown as well.
“We always felt all the pizza menus in Sydney were the same,” says Powell, a former head chef at Sydney fine-diner Tetsuya’s. “Places like Roberta’s in Brooklyn do incredible pizza that focuses on the dough, the best ingredients and proves that a venue doesn’t have to be super-Italian to be excellent.”
Powell’s pizzas have beautifully seasoned dough, charred crusts and toppings of just a few ingredients that deliver big flavours.The likes of a clam pizza, for instance, with garlic, parsley, pecorino and chilli, and a pepperoni (the sausage from Powell’s LP’s Quality Meats) sprinkled with fennel seeds are winning legions of fans.
Nick Stanton,co-owner of Melbourne’s Leonardo’s, believes the new interest in pizza stems from skilled chefs turning their focus to everyday eats. “Some chefs with serious credentials are entering the pizza market and bringing a new level of sophistication, but keeping it real too,” says Stanton.
He makes thin, crisp New York-style pizzas with Australiana toppings, such as a play on ham and pineapple with slow-cooked pork shoulder, chipotle and pineapple. “Its cool to focus on the Australian influence because we are Australian,” he says.“We still do less is more, but it’s important to have fun too.”
Jake Smyth,co-owner of burger joint Mary’s,launched Mary’s Pizzeria at the Lansdowne Hotel late last year and he agrees punters want quality rather than over-the-top toppings.
“It’s an approachable way to get deep into il mondo italiano without committing to being a straight red-sauce joint,” says Smyth. “Quality over quantity along with a little adventurous exploration of the classic toppings and style,” he says.
Mary’s Pizzeria serves a New Yorkstyle pizza – thin without being a “goddamn cracker” – and a Detroit-style square pizza, like a tongue-in-cheek ode to the 1980 Pizza Hut experience. “A crunchy base, a little dough for comfort and as much cheese and sauce as you can handle,” he says.
Neil Perry is a notable member of the new pizza movement. His Rosetta already had the big pizza oven spinning discs for the bar, but Perry wanted to up the city’s pizza game.“In the CBD there aren’t a lot of quality pizza options other than Matteo’s and Fratelli, so we saw a real opportunity to give the city some beautiful pizzas.”
At Rosetta the bases are made with a four-day sourdough. “It’s just bread with topping on it – what’s all the fuss about?” jokes Perry. “But if you look after your dough and get it into a hot oven, you get that bubbly, puffy crust with burnt bits and a thin veneer of flavour from a great topping – it’s one of the best things you’ll ever eat.”
Casey Wall, chef and co-owner of Melbourne’s Capitano believes the boom of quality pizzas stems from chefs’ eagerness to make food they themselves want to eat. “Pizza is probably the easiest food to make at a basic, serviceable level. People aren’t usually offended by average pizza. On the other hand, making really good pizza, really consistently is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in a kitchen,” says Wall.
It’s a challenge home cooks are willing to take on.Wall believes the rise in making pizza at home is down to an increased interest in not only where our food comes from, but how it’s made.
“I think it’s simply that people are becoming more aware of food systems and respect the effort, more than convenience, in preparing food,” he says.
Perry agrees and suggests people not only want to know how to make things, they want to get their hands dirty and master it. “That whole idea of craft and connection with food is important and people are realising that,” he says.
“Putting work into your food, like kneading dough, is not only something fun to do with the kids, it’s got that tactile nature that makes you really feel like you’re creating something.”
Families are vital to the success of Stanton’s business, he says, and their enjoyment is translating to an interest in making their own pizza.
“We open at 5.30pm and from then until 7.30pm it’s packed with families and the kids are obsessed with pizza,” he says. “And I think you give a kid the opportunity to play with dough and make a pizza at home, they’re going to dive right in.”
Powell is a firm believer that the precedent you set in restaurants helps nurture the standards and interest one has at home. So if restaurants make great pizza, soon enough people are going to try their hand at home.
“Everything that happens in a restaurant trickles down to the home,” he says. “Artisan sausages, making pasta, bread and now it’s pizza.
“And honestly, at home if you have kids it’s really about the fun of making it. Even when the pizza is bad, it’s pretty good.” Indeed.
For pizza recipes by Luke Powell head to delicious.com.au.
PIZZA PERFECT Bubbly charred crusts and bold