Saturday, November 2, 2013

So You Wanna be a Pizzaiolo: Pizza Trainining & Getting Certified - Reality Check!

Authentic Neapolitan Pizzeria

Neapolitan pizza is the latest rage in the pizza food industry.  Pizzerias specializing in this culinary delight of Naples are springing up in major cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, to name a few, throughout the country. As a member of Pizza Making Forum, I read of members wishing they could quit their day job and work their dream job of being a full-time pizzaiolo, and others who already have pizza skills or bread baking experience and want to venture out in the Neapolitan pizza business.

While I had neither aspirations early in January, I'm all about learning a new craft,  finding the best resources, cost effective training, and getting the best hands-on experience. Reading my earlier blogs, you'll know how Scott's Pizza Tour exposed me to the flavors of Neapolitan pizza.  It was also Scott who convinced me to take Roberto Caporuscio's training in the city by living and breathing pizza for 10 straight days.  As an avid learner of any form of creativity and "who knows, a pizzeria could be in the future,"  I easily convinced myself to take the plunge and involve myself with "getting certified".

Clearly, it's good to have choices in making any decision. This post will be useful to others who are thinking about what it takes to be a certified Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza maker).

This blog is dedicated to my personal experiences with anything related to pizza. And you will see that it's specific to Neapolitan pizza making.  The attraction is because it's the closest process to artisan bread baking, i.e. fermentation.  Also, it's the only pizza making tradition that requires adherence to a specific guideline set forth by the Italian governing body. Here are several acronyms I came across that I needed to google for clarification.  So the Italian governing body that provides these guidelines is Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) which is housed in Naples.  VPN Americas is the official American Delegation of The AVPN, is headquartered in Marina del Ray, CA and is currently responsible for the US and Canada market. Then there is APN Americas. Yet,  I am not clear as to who or what empowered APN to certify individuals.

 For clarity, there is a distinction between the two certifications.  AVPN certification is given to the pizzeria who show that they adhere to the AVPN rules. This means the pizzeria has met the basic requirements of using a wood fire oven, proper ingredients, equipment and proper technique for preparation of dough and pizza.  In addition to the application form, a video showing the process of making the dough/pizza is required. AVPN Certification is given to the individual pizza maker.  To date, food trucks with a pizza wood fire oven business are not certifiable.  Maybe that will change.

My Baking Background:

Baking has always been one of my many favorite activities.  Like most young teenagers, I was drawn to baking anything sweet like cookies, cakes, quick breads, muffins, tea cakes, and cupcakes. In my forties, it's been all about artisan bread baking.   I took an artisan bread course and learned about fermentation and how to cultivate a starter.  Learning to use natural leaven with sourdough breads, focaccia and seeded breads  expanded my bread making skills and whetted my appetite to try recipes from Jeffrey Hammelman, my bread hero. My bread background is what attracted me to learning Neapolitan pizzas which involves the fermentation to achieve flavor and texture. I was attracted to the idea of making pizza dough with my bare hands, as opposed to a mixer or rolling pin.

Focaccia using natural leaven

Rosemary and Sea Salt

My Pizza Making Experience:

Back in November, 2012, I signed up to be  a member of the Pizza Making Forum; a great exposure to vast opinions, countless recipes, pizza experiences, and a great way to connect with pizza fanatics all over the globe who are pizza makers at home, professionals and the wannabees. To date, there are over 20,000 members.  It was through this forum that I was able to find Giulio Adriani, a restaurant owner/pizza chef of Forcella and teach me the fundamentals of Neapolitan pizza.  After attending the Pizza Expo and learning more about pizza science from another pizza chef, Tony Gemignani, I continued my training with Roberto Caporuscio, pizza chef of Keste / Don Antonio.

Making pizzas at Forcella with Giulio Adriani

While I would love to  continue to pursue more pizza training in Naples, I've reached a point where I need to practice the art and science of pizza making on my own.

After this Training Experience, Would I do Anything Different?

Prior to my first hands-on lesson of Neapolitan pizza making with Giulio Adriani, I spent  quality time watching videos on You Tube.  In fact, I highly recommend "Pizza Training with the Masters, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  It is a professionally made video of Roberto Caporuscio and Peppe Starita discussing dough management including making mozzarella.   Watching these informational videos prepared me for the hands-on training with Giulio Adriani in January 2013.  By the time I started my training with Roberto in May 2013, I honestly felt like I was paying an exorbitant amount of cash just so I could help make dough for his customers because he was understaffed, and simply to use and experience  his professional kitchen.  Unless your goal is to open a Neapolitan pizzeria, taking a 10-day pizza training course with Roberto Caporuscio and getting certified is a complete overkill.  Even for the experienced baker, five days is sufficient.

Based on my personal experience, Roberto seems to explain himself better in front of the camera rather than in person.  It's really tough to get any personal attention from the pizza master, when he is distracted with his cell phone, Skype, computer, or staff.  Save the other five days and invest in the equipment or supplies! A fork mixer is not cheap, so invest wisely! And IF you must train with Roberto, make sure his daughter, Georgia, who helps him teach the dough and oven management is around.  She travels to Italy often, and it would to your advantage in making sure she's doing the training. Her English explanations are easier to understand regarding the "Starita technique" of gently opening the dough.

For the novice, enthusiasts, pizza makers who already make other styles, do yourself a favor and be a member of Pizza Making Forum,  read the Serious Eats: Slice Pizza Blog which offers information about ANY pizza you can imagine, watch the FREE and amazing videos on You Tube, and contact Giulio Adriani  for additional training or consultation.  If you want to be certified, VPN Americas is a more reasonable investment.  Three days. Their website has a syllabus which explains in detail the what the student is expected to learn.

VPN Americas

So, Is One Training Better than Another?

Here's a post I found on the Forno Bravo website who shares their personal experience learning to make Neapolitan pizza in Naples. By the way, Forno Bravo is website that includes a forum where folks can seek out information on pizza related issues. They have forum where folks share their experience in building their own pizza oven.

My name is Michael Fairholme and I work with James at Forno Bravo. In January and February of this year I spent 4 weeks with a Master Pizziolo in Napoli to perfect my techniques and I think I can answer most of your questions.

First, I've only found one trainer in Napoli that takes foreign students, all other pizza training courses are designed and run for the local talent and you must speak Italian. My trainer was Enzo Coccia and his business is called Pizza Consulting and it's run from La Notizia, his pizzeria in a suburb of Napoli. The course in 3 weeks long and will cost about 1500,00 euros. He sometimes allows students to extend for a week if other students have started their training somewhere in the middle or end of yours. The classes are only taught in Italian but he has a young lady that will act as an interpreter for 60,00 euros per day. Enzo suggests you have her for the first four days of your training, because after that a 'pizza' vocabulary develops and you'll can get most of what he's trying to teach by sign language and a lot of shouting.

The best time of year is any time...Napoli is beautiful and if you get out and explore it is a great place to visit. Bare in mind Enzo closes the month of August.

How you register is through his website:
He is a bit slow to respond and it will be done through Nika his interpreter.

I found a very nice, clean hotel about a 25 minute walk from the pizzeria that cost 30,00 per night (bathroom down the hall), Enzo has a friend that can supply a room in his house for about the same money but it's miles away and you will not be able to see any of the City living so far out of town. There are two other 2 star hotels a bus ride away that charge 50-60,00euros per night - I can give you more specifics later.

Now, what will you actually learn? This my second visit to Enzo, the first was April of 2006 and I only stayed for 6 days. My purpose then was to gain enough knowledge to help a client open a Vera Pizza Napoletana restaurant in Athens, Greece. I had recruited a young man with good wood-burning oven experience, I just wanted to bend his skills toward what my client wanted...true, thin crusted pizza Napoletana. In the end, my first few days gave me enough information to get open and make a very good pizza, but when time allowed, I went back for the full three weeks to perfect my technique. I'm glad I had a chance to go twice with a break in between, because we had moved off center a bit and the second three weeks brought me back on course. You will definitely learn how to make Vera Pizza Napoletana. The initial focus is learning about the dough...the most important part. Everyday you will make dough, at first it's a 2kg batch made by hand, then you move up to the automatic mixer making 10kg batches. Then you'll learn how to form the "pignotte" , the pizza ball which will later be formed into the pizza round. Next you'll learn how to form the pizza round, probably the most tricky part - everyone struggles with this. Then you'll learn pizza peel techniques, control, placing the pie, pulling, placing in a take-away box, placing on a plate. Then you learn how to fire the oven and get it to temperature and then manage the fire. Next you learn how to make sauce and cut cheese. Now you learn to make pizza Margherita and pizza Bianca. And that's about it, anything else you learn will be from watching Enzo and his staff during evening service and any other visits you can make to VPN pizzerie around Napoli and there are several hundred to choose from.

Now for the drawbacks. First, the class is only four hours long, 3 1/2 really because he never arrives on time, we take a 20 minute coffee break to give the dough a chance to rise, and he always stops at least 20 minutes early so you can clean the pizzeria for evening service. You need to learn a lot in this small amount of time and there just isn't enough time to practice each of these very important skills, especially if there are 3 or 4 people in the get even less one-on-one. The place is so small there can only be one student in the pizzeria during evening service, so even being able to watch people doing what you so desperately want to learn is tough. For at least 5 days of the 3 weeks course, you'll come back to the pizzeria to chop and dice ingredients for that nights service. After a while you get the feeling that you're just free labour as they tell you to sweep the floor, or go get wood from the storage unit. But it does give you a good understanding of how you'll organize your own place so I shouldn't grumble. You don't actually get to make a pizza until the last day of the last week and then it will be a Margherita, a Marinara and a Pizza Bianca. As a result, from lack of any practice time, you struggle with your turning technique, your rounds are more oval and thinner than they should general, you just don't get enough oven time to prepare you for your own place. Considering I paid 1500,00 plus 240,00 for the interpreter, airfare was 975,00, hotel, food and tickets for the bus and taxis was an additional 60,00 per day ( and that was done on the cheap) which adds 1260,00 to the total, I had 4000,00 euros/$5400.00 invested before I considered my loss of income for 5 weeks; that's a lot of money for a 52.5 hour training course.

The positives: I really feel like I understand the dough and have a good knowledge of the water to flour ratios, I understand and respect the traditions behind Pizza Napoletana, I know what is required to make this style of pizza, and I understand the rules and have experienced how the quality of ingredients makes this pizza so special. If you get it right this pizza is magic!

So, 1000 words later, I love this pizza and I'm sure I know how to do it, but only because I had an oven and mixer in Athens to return to so I could continue to practice, practice, practice. As for being able to come back and run a pizzeria, I only gained that by visiting 35+ pizzeria in Napoli, Roma, Firenze and Milano, watching how they did it, took notes on how they laid out there make table and positioned their ovens. I watched as staff handled a 30 pie rush, worked as a team (or didn't, which was often the case) and took notes on where to put the fridge units. Combine all this with my time at La Notizia and now I feel I can open a pizzeria...or yours if you want some help!

While this is one account of someone's experience, there is no "perfect" training or class.
Learning in Italy would be a dream, however, the translation, even with a translator, may be a challenge. (More on this experience with another blog post learning from Gabriele Bonci via a translator in Eataly!).  But the idea of learning to make pizza from THE place, the opportunity to taste pizzas all around the city and watch the pizzaiolos do their magic would be an amazing experience.

Roberto Caporuscio who intially trained with Enzo Coccia, is now under the tutelage of Antonio Starita, better known for handling the dough more gentler than Enzo Coccia.  Yet, there is no mistake that Neapolitan pizza chefs like Enzo Algarme of Pupatella in Arlington, VA;  Brad Otton of Setto Bello in NV; and  Jonathan Goldsmith of Spacca Napoli, in Chicago, IL trained under Enzo Coccia. Jay Jerrier of Il Cane Rosso in Dallas, TX and Anthony Carron of 800 Degrees, in Los Angeles both received their technical training from VPN Americas in Marina del Rey, CA. As you can imagine, there is no one path to acquiring the skills and technique needed to adhere to the AVPN and being a success story in the Neapolitan pizza business. Interesting to note that both Enzo Algarme of Pupatella and Jay Jerrier of Il Cane Rosso started out as a food truck / oven trailer business.  Evidently, their small business led them to a brick and mortar location(s) with much success!

I say it's all about getting the basic fundamentals of Neapolitan pizza making under your belt, learning not from one but as many as possible, practicing the craft, remaining passionate, and being able to create a Neapolitan pizza that will provide someone their best experience!!

What's next?  Practice, practice and more practice for me! Thanks to neighbors, friends,  and work colleagues, they brought their appetites and enthusiasm to indulge my passion for making the "perfect" Neapolitan pizza! Looking forward to spring time when I can fire up the wood fire oven for another pizza party. For the time being, my beloved Le Panyol oven (on a stand) is for sale so that I can get a mobile wood fire oven and bring Neapolitan wood fire pizzas to the Charlottesville community.

Potatoes with rosemary, swiss and gruyere cheese

Fennel Sausage with basil and fresh mozzarella

Shiitake and cremini mushrooms with truffle cheese

Trying my hand with  Pizza della Romana

So You Wanna be a Pizzaiolo (pizza maker)? Here are names and schools that I found during my search on the internet.


VPN Americas ( Peppe Miele and Jose Barrios, Marina del Ray, California)
3-day course ($1650)
5-day course ($2650)
VPN certification

International School of Pizza (Tony Gemignani, San Francisco, California)
4-day course; VPN certification
1-day course for Home Chef

Pizza Academy (Forcella, Brooklyn, New York, Giulio Adriani) - OPENING SOON
5-day course; VPN certification
1-day course for Non-Professional

Pizza Training (Don Antonio, New York, Roberto Capuroscio)
10-day course ($4500)
APN certification

Carmine D'Amato Neapolitan Pizza Lessons ( Settebello, Henderson, NV)
3-day course ($1200)
6-day course ($2000)
10-day course ($2800)

Wood Fire Oven Baker (Ellie Olsen, Colorado)
Supplier of Neapolitan ovens, mixers, pizza prep tables, etc.
Test Kitchen Available

Artisan Pizza Solutions  (Michael Fairholme, California)
In-house pizza training


AVPN School of Pizza Training

Pizza Consulting / Training with Enzo Coccia (Naples, Italy)

Franco Pepe ( Caiazzo, Campania, Italy)
Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe

Gennaro Esposito

Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli:
Graziano Bertuzzo, instructor
Angelo Silverstrini, instructor

Gino Sorbillo

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