Pizza Week wouldn't be complete without a few Q&As with serious pizza professionals around town. That includes Cane Rosso's executive chef and master pizzaiolo, Dino Santonicola.
Anyone who has ever met Santonicola in person knows he's full of contagious energy (one would have to be to challenge that 900-degree oven all day) and has a thick Italian accent. He responded to our questions via email, as he said, "because probably you will not understand much with my accent." For the most part (save some spacing and punctuation for clarity), Santonicola's answers are as he wrote them, and that same lively spirit is evident even in his written word.
How long have you been making pizzas — in general and/or professionally?
I start my contact with the pizza world at the age of 10, at pizzeria down the street of my house. My mom was leaving me there to hangout -- I never really understand why until I got older. At age of 13 I start my first job at same pizzeria where my mom left me for three year before.
Well the reason was: I am from Naples, Italy, the [birth] place of pizza, and there when you grow up you didn't really had a lot of choices for jobs -- either you were going to work in a pizza place or you were going to try rip off tourists for make few bucks. Well the three years of hanging out at pizza place made me choose the pizza world as job. That basically was my mom's plan. So, to answer your question I am making pizza for last 23 years.
Who taught you how to make dough and how long did it take you to really master it?
I learned how to make the pizza dough from this old guy called Ciro, he was the master pizzaiolo at the pizza place by my house in Naples. The way how he did!! Well, thats only happens in Naples.
Let me tell you how I learn how make dough, this pizzeria where I start work, it's really old, now unfortunately it's closed for good because all the old people died and no new generations continued the traditions...
So we had a basement were all the goods were prepared, included pizza dough, which was made in this room with a door. Well, we use make the dough together. First by hands -- even if we had a mixer but he want me to learn how to make by hands so I can learn the feeling of the dough. Back then I thought the guy was fricking nuts!! But today I still thank him in my mind. And then we laid all the dough on a big marble table. When was time to roll the balls for the pizza, well Ciro locked me in the dough room, and told me he will let me go out when I finished roll the dough ball!!
And he said those words, "If you need go in the bathroom, well you better finish fast because I am not going to open the door until you done." And I learned how roll the dough balls really fast without use the scale, because the scale make you waist time!! And I want to get out that room soon as possible.
And thank to him today I am really good in all dough process.
Did you always know you'd have a life in pizza?
If making pizza was always what I am supposes to do in my life since I am born? Well I don't know that but what I know is I love to do it! My job over the years took me many places, different cities, different states, different country. I meet so many people -- some great, some not so much!! And if I will born again I will do the same thing.
What is your favorite pizza to eat when you don't have to make it?
I Love pizza. I ate pizza every day for last 23 years. Even if it is one slice I have to have it!! And I love the Margherita pizza -- really simple tomato sauce, fresh mozz, basil and only 450 calorie!! (Neapolitan pizza style only.)
Dino Santonicola. [Photo: Cane Rosso]