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Focus February 2020

Pizza: a mixed blessing for Italian cuisine

Italian cuisine abroad is often represented by pizza, and in Italy too it is offered by many restaurants and even a few prize-winning chefs.

The Italian Academy of Cuisine frequently receives requests to found Legations in cities and states which are off the beaten path and far from the main tourist and commercial routes. The first question we pose these applicants is whether their area has Italian restaurants. The answer is always yes, but qualified: these are pizza restaurants. In remoter areas, there can be no Italian restaurant without pizza. An example: in the pleasant city of Lille in France, of the 5 Italian restaurants represented in our Guide, all 5 serve pizza. There’s no business without pizza, is the refrain we hear. A Syrian friend interested in opening a Legation in Damascus confirms that there are only pizza restaurants in that city. For us, pizza means Italy: alongside spaghetti, it is our cuisine’s representative dish; but in many foreign countries, it is not associated with Italy, so that sometimes in America one hears the question: “What’s the Italian for pizza?” However, pizza has also invaded many restaurants in Italy. Beyond the ‘pure’ pizzerie which only serve pizza and calzone in all their manifold variations, there are hybrid pizza restaurants which also offer a few pasta dishes and not much besides, and finally, traditional restaurants which also have a pizza menu. These different categories attract different clienteles: families, children, birthdays, or a younger crowd.
Restaurants without pizza, and eminent chefs, observe this phenomenon with both apprehension and interest. Pizza has evolved significantly in recent years, through the (re)discovery of ancient and whole-grain flours, sourdough, long leavening times, water buffalo mozzarella and other special cheeses, PDO extra-virgin olive oil, top ingredients with short supply chains, and imaginative, often expensive toppings. Beyond the soft, airy, wide-crusted ‘Neapolitan’ pizza, now increasingly confined to no-frills Neapolitan pizza restaurants, and the thin, crispy ‘Roman’ pizza as well as the many child-friendly variants including pizza with chips or ‘ethnic’ pizzas such as ‘kebab pizza’, we now have ‘gourmet’ pizza. Everything nowadays is ‘gourmet’, from hamburgers to motorway café sandwiches. A ‘gourmet’ pioneer is Carlo Cracco, whose new restaurant in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan has launched its own ‘personal’ pizza margherita, not without attracting criticism. By now, many great chefs have joined the pizza party. Gourmet pizza is generally served already cut into slices, each of which must contain a selection of all the toppings, allowing each diner to enjoy the pizza’s entire flavour palette in every bite. Not only acclaimed restaurants but simple pizza restaurants too have embraced this new trend, offering pizzas with unusual flavours and improbable ingredients: lemon, honey, figs, caviar and so on. This phenomenon confirms pizza’s world-conquering magnetism, and the need to make it profitable even for large-scale restaurant businesses.

Paolo Petroni
President of the Accademia