Monday, March 25, 2013

Pizza Expo 2013: Award to Antonio Starita

Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Don Antonio Starita
Tony Gemignani discusses the authenticity of Neopolitan pizza.

I attended Tony Gemignani's second day workshop which focused on baking several styles of pizza, including Neopolitan pizza, the oldest pizza with traditions going back to Naples. A true Neopolitan pizza requires adhering to strict standards and guidelines set forth by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana or AVPN.   The requirements include the correct types of ingredients (00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala or Fior di latte, and sea salt), proper dough production techniques (by hand, fork or spiral mixer), and correct baking equipment and techniques (wood-fire oven, 485°C (900°F), 60-90 seconds bake time).

Tony makes nine different types of pizza for his customers at Tony's Pizza Napoletana, and of the nine, he believes the Neopolitan pizza is the most difficult to make. "It's simple, it's a pizza margherita. It's basil, tomato, cheese, but it's not.  Creating something so simple in line is actually the hardest thing to do. And when it comes to every style of pizza in our industry, this is the hardest. This style, it's a trade."

Handmade by Don Antonio Starita
After discussing his own recipe of making a Neopolitan dough using Caputo Flour and San Felice Flour, he demonstrated dough handling techniques indicating how it is similar to "dancing" with your dough, swaying gently with the soft dough. He went on to say that he has taken fifty trips to Naples with his wife, and on one trip he had one of the best pizzas in his life.  It was a trip to Pizzeria Starita a Materdei in Naples, owned by Don Antonio Starita. "He now owns a pizzeria in New York and has trained more pizzaiolos in the world that are now some of the greatest." This was his introduction to a special (and surprised) guest, Antonio Starita, one of the best pizzaiolos in the world. It is a "Lifetime Achievement Award", rarely given at the Pizza Expo.

"It is a Pioneer Award because he has made such a great impact in the pizza world."

Roberto Caporuscio of the popular Keste Pizza & Vino also presented the award, and happens to be one of Antonio Starita's students.  Together, they partnered to open Don Antonio in NYC in February 2012. The "Montanara Starita" is one of their highlighted selections of pizza fritte (light fried pizza). It is a flash-fried pizza dough, topped with tomato sauce and smoked buffalo mozzarella, and quickly finished in the wood-fire oven. This technique was first created by Antonio Starita ten years ago, and is now emulated by many pizza makers, including Forcella in New York. It's been voted "Best Pizza" by the New York magazine in its annual "Best of NY" issue, and featured in Food & Wine, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal".

For those of you who speak or understand Italian, here is a video of Antonio Starita accepting the award:

 Antonio demonstrates his dough techniques with a translator
Maestro Antonio Starita is no stranger to well earned respect and fame. He's had dough in his hands since the age of twelve.  A third-generation pizza maker, he owns one of the oldest and most revered restaurants in Naples, Pizzeria Starita a Materdei, established in 1901. His restaurant was immortalized in the movie "L 'Oro di Napoli, starring Sophia Loren (1954). He was also selected by the Vatican to present pizza to Pope John Paul II (2000).
An advocate of the Neopolitan pizza industry, Maestro Antonio Starita also serves as Vice President of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN) which translates to Association of Neapolitan Pizza Maker. This association has been consulting in the US since 2007. It is an Italian governing body that teaches the art and science of Neopolitan pizza making and certifies the pizza maker ( pizzaiuoli)  who adhere to authentic procedures.

Me and the Maestro!
Meeting Don Antonio Starita after the award ceremony was such an honor for me. I have much respect for Don Antonio Starita who shares his experience, passion, and knowledge with the world.  It is through Antonio Starita's voice and involvement with APN and guidelines outlined by AVPN that we can continue to preserve the 200 year tradition,  pass it to a new generation and uphold the culinary legacy of Naples. 

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