Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Feb 2007      

                                                                    Pz.DDoctor of Pizza, summa cum fungis

a pizzaScholars of world literature will recall that in Faust, Goethe's protagonist laments that even though he has studied philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, he felt that he knew nothing. Especially, he complained (in an unpublished revision), "I can't make pizza worth a damn!" This is why Goethe undertook his famous Italian Journey. Unfortunately, the only worthwhile thing he wrote on that whole trip was a poem that starts, "Kennst Du das Land wo die Zitronen blühen?"—"Knowest Thou the land where the lemons bloom?"  This was followed by Goethe's attempt to cook a pizza con limone back in Frankfurt. His intellectual friends found it interesting, but, generally, were not amused. Especially Beethoven.

Today, Goethe would be thrilled to know that he could—without benefit of sorcery—fly from Frankfurt to Naples and go to school to learn how to make real Neapolitan pizza. Using the ever-popular excuse that "it's a tough job, but someone has to judge these pizza cook-offs," I accepted an invitation  to the "final exam" of just such a school, on the premises of the pizzeria "La Notizia" on via Caravaggio in Naples. The proprietor, headmaster, and resident Pz.D is Enzo Coccia. For the last ten years, Coccia has been in the "Pizza Consulting" business (as it says on his card) and has worked and taught in Naples and abroad, including the United States, Canada and the Middle East.

(from left: Perry Vidalakis,
Michael Fairholme, Enzo Coccia)

If you get it into your head that you want to learn how to make the real deal and then go back to wherever it is you came from, open a real Neapolitan pizzeria and convince the natives that their attempts to bake tofu pizza in a solar oven, while ecologically virtuous, are heathenishly misguided —and in the process, make a living— this is a pretty good way to learn the trade.  You will spend weeks at school and learn some pizza lore (why is pizza Margherita called that?), learn about the proper ingredients, learn to stoke, bank and vent the notoriously difficult Neapolitan wood-fired brick oven, learn to mix the dough, knead the dough, shape the pizza, and even learn the ins and outs of efficient pizzeria management. Everything you need you will learn, and the stuff you knead will wind up being very edible, the whole point of the exercise.

Coccia has had students from around the world, including England, the United States, Egypt, and a surprisingly large number from Japan. He can handle from 40 to 50 would-be pizzaioli in a year. I was there to eat the term papers of Michael Fairholme from San Francisco (who hopes to go into the import business—ovens, ingredients, etc.—all the trappings and accessories you need to open a pizzeria) and Perry Vidalakis (who will open a pizzeria in his hometown of Pasadena, California).

They passed. Got high marks, too.

(Also: click here for related item and for the answer to the question about the Margherita pizza.)

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