Pepe in Los Angeles like a rock star

One hundred people paid up to 200 dollars for six slices of pizza made by the pizzaiolo from Caiazzo: «My secret? Flour, to begin with»

18-02-2017

A souvenir picture with Franco Pepe and Nancy Silverton inside Chi spacca, one of the four faces in Silverton’s universe. Photo gallery by Luciano Furia

Photogallery

How much would you be willing to spend for pizza from what many people consider the number one pizzaiolo in the world? Not all of Franco Pepe’s and Pepe in grani’s clients live close by and can return home after dining there, so if you have the chance to visit Caiazzo in Alto Casertano, on top of travel and overnight stay you’d spend just a handful of euros: 4.50 for Marinara and 5 for Margherita, between 8 and 10 for the more original and rich pizzas, from Alifana – named after onions from Alife – to tuna, or Scarpetta and Sole nel piatto. Then some ask for Quattro gusti, each one of the four slices offering a different pizza chosen by the guest, and in that case it’s 12 euros.

In Milan, this would be considered a gift, in Campania less so. Yet last Sunday, 12th February, one hundred people spent between 175 dollars at lunchtime and 200 in the evening for a tasting of pizzas by Franco Pepe and nobody complained. This had already happened one year ago, when the price was 185 dollars, and it happened again – always not including wine.

Same city, Los Angeles, California, same place, one of Nancy Silverton’s four restaurants, at the crossing between Highland and Melrose, two avenues that have nothing to say if not that they’re endless.

Ten years ago Silverton opened Osteria Mozza, with partners Mario Batali andJoe Bastianich. After four months came the turn of Pizzeria Mozza and Chi spacca in 2013, dedicated to meat, and take away place Spacca2go. It is all based on the same cuisine. They’re open seven days a week, at lunchtime and in the evening, seating hundreds of people per day, and a turnover everyone would dream of in Italy but few manage to make.

Pepe occupied Chi spacca at lunchtime and in the evening, kneading and cooking in front of everyone, dominating the flames of a wood oven not specifically made for pizza, hence the opening was too large. Like an acrobat walking in the void. Italian raw materials, including fiordilatte from Agerola, and in a gym bag, his inseparable madia, the equivalent of Linus’s blanket.

Six tastings at lunchtime, five in the evening, when Pepe’s super offer opened an Italian dinner that continued with seafood salad, delicious meatballs, Salted cod alla vesuviana and lemon tart. Pepe kneads using his hands and this is unsettling because it’s a bit like using an old telephone hanging on the wall. It simply cannot be. Meanwhile, the American audience was showering him with questions. Where’s Caiazzo? «Close to Caserta, north of Naples». How can you serve 500 pizzas each night, on average (Pepe in grani is only open in the evening) without kneading machines? «I’ve organised myself. I have 30 young people who work for me following the model of a kitchen team». How can you define your pizza? «My pizza, is the pizza of Franco Pepe and of the territory surrounding me. I feel I’m an ambassador of Caiazzo’s producers and excellences». What’s most important for you? «My flour. It’s more important than myself. If I were here in Los Angeles without my flour, and had to use a different flour, it wouldn’t be a special meal. If for any reason I would not be here, and my flour was here instead, your dinner would be special all the same».

While the sun was shining bright and with the help of Salvatore Vigliotta, Pepe presented Pizza fritta, Margherita sbagliata (with tomato and basil reductions added after baking), Il sole nel piatto (a sort of richer and mouth watering Margherita), Scarpetta (triple tomato and Grana padano), Alifana (with onions from Alife) and Breakfast, a novelty for 2017 with eggs and pancetta. After sunset, Allitterata, named after allitterato tuna, took the place of Breakfast and Sole nel piatto.

To sum it all up, if an event is felt as real, special and unique, people will pay no matter what. And Pepe at 175 or 200 dollars honours Italian high quality in the world, more than hundreds and hundreds of Italian souding pizzas, all looks, no substance.


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Photogallery

Franco Pepe with writer and journalist Michael Krikorian. Photo by Luciano Furia
Michael Krikorian
Sarah Clarke, general manager and beverage director at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, with Paolo Marchi. Photo by Luciano Furia