Pizza making in Rome

The Italian Pizza Maker

No, no, no – you have to roll it smooth. Nice and even across the marble. Not rough and hard like that. Smoooooth…[pushes roller gently across the dough]

You mean like how you should touch a woman?

Yes, yes – something like this.

Okay. I have no idea what you are talking about.

And this is how the training went. Back and forth.  A patient and well-trained pizza master (Hani) and a hopeless apprentice (me). Who would have thought working in Rome would be as complicated as this. I can only imagine what Hani was thinking (che cazzo stai facendo) as I fumbled from one area of the kitchen to the other. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea for me to round up to an even 8 years of experience after the extra 6.5 years of padding to my 3 months of restaurant experience on my distinguished resume, or perhaps the accidental substitution of junior bus boy with lead sous chef was a bit much, but hey, I’m American – we are an optimistic bunch. Lying Exagerating Highlighting our strongest attributes is how you make it in America. Fake it until you make it as they say, or until they realize that your culinary skills start and end with operating a can opener.  Rome wasn’t built overnight, but I suspect its rapid decline may have been due to resume irregularities.

Oh you were first slave under Ceasar? And were a gladiator for 6 years undefeated? Impressive. Hired.

I wasn’t joking about being a can opener specialist – Italian tomato sauce with basil, olive oil, and salt

But before I digress into America’s my downfall, let me explain how I got myself into this predicament. As I previously mentioned, when looking for work in Rome, a lot of the hustle is about knowing a guy who knows a guy, if you want to find a job in Rome, but in this lucky case, I found the guy the way that so many wonderful new relationships form: over a few bottles glasses of vino.

His name is Fabrizo, and he is the owner of Cave Canem Pizzeria-Trattoria, which is a renowned local eatery offering a variety of Italian delights, from fresh antipasti of mozzarella di bufala, prosciutti, and bruschette to full flavored pasta and meat dishes. It had recently been brought up in a New York Times article, for one of the best local pizzerias that has real Roman prices (not the sort you of tourist traps with the menu on the window).

And like I said, luckily for me, Fabrizo is one of those business guys born with the hustle instinct at heart, as such, he is willing to give anyone a shot at working in Rome for a least a night or two. Fortunate for me, not so fortunate for him, as my cooking skills became apparent after about 15 seconds.

Why are you cutting that with a butter knife?

While Italian pizza originated in Napoli, where the traditional thick crusted style emerged, each region in Italy has its own version, and in Rome, the pizza style is paper-thin.

Ultra thin Roman style pizza

What makes Roman pizza so delicious is the freshness of the ingredients, as Italians haven’t caught on to the modern American wonders of pumping enough hormones and preservatives into the food supply so that it can survive a nuclear winter.  The food is so fresh it practically falls out the truck direct from the farm into the kitchen into my mouth. And therein lies the irony, although Italians are pretty late as a standard practice in daily life, this tardiness means the food is made right in the nick of time, thus making it better. So next time you are going to the office, trying be 15 minutres late and tell your boss I sent you. I was literally fumbling around the kitchen sampling making sure everything was in order, when the mozzarella was delivered; so they couldn’t have been fresher unless I milked the cow myself in the back.

Freshly grated mozzarella cheese, by me – and I must say – I am straight gangsta when it comes to automatic machines that do all of the manuel labor, g.

 

Only the freshest stuff…I should know. I kept eating it.

The dough (pasta) is made fresh, and al natural, and it made paper-thin on a marble slab. The skill to roll the dough consistently is no small feat, as is being able to throw it in the air like in the movies. I think I managed to throw all my pasta (dough) into the ingredent row consistently, thus doubling the workload of Hani. I am well on my way for employee of the month for keeping my co-workers on their A-game.  It is why I have “Efficiency Expert” on the CV.

Fresh pasta, dough, being man handled by my trainer Hani. I tried to do it, but since have the upper body strength of a 7 year old girl, the process took too long.

 

Pasta balls that will make one Pizza each  – He has a technique here, that even after a few days, I stil can’t do

 

After each pasta ball is tended with care, it is the basis for the pie (note, only I call it a pie, no one else does, which leads me to believe this is bastardized term for Americans and you should call it pasta, or not, make them conform to us I say)

And we can’t have Roman pizza without a wood fire oven. The high heat it creates has such intensity that the entire kitchen turns into a furnace.  And due to the thin crust, a pizza can cook in two minutes.

Wood fire pizza oven turns the room into a furnace. I omitted the photos of me working shirtless – you are welcome.

 

Keeping warm

The real challenge comes with the handling of the pala, which is kind of like the Coa used when harvesting agave (tequila), exceptionally sharp and should not be managed by an unskillful gringo, yet here I went at it again, tempting fate by wielding an instrument way above my pay grade. But if you want a job in Rome, you sometimes gotta tempt fate. You use the pala to move food (calzones, pizzas etc.) and the wood around inside the oven.

Working with the pala. Very dangerous stuff.

 

However, there is also the gifted person version of the Pala, called the Palino, for taking the pizza in and out of the oven. Something that was more on par with my previous work experience (none).

 

The Palino is bigger, and much more Turner friendly

 

So how did my time as Roman Pizza Maker go? Well despite lacking all the fundamental skills ones needs to succeed in a kitchen, from knowing the names of ingredients to being only able to find the on/off button (periodically) on the machinery, I did not in fact burn down the Trattoria or drink on the job, which I think is a win.   In business speak, if we look at the ROI, I was constantly eating food and my productively level was at about 1/20 my colleagues, so although I am no mathematician, I think it is safe to say, I am what investors would refer to as junk.

While I maybe not destine to be make my living as a Pizza Maker, I think professional guinea pig or asshole who doubles coworkers workload maybe right up my alley.

 

And my courageous co-workers – Hani, Khalil, Marta, Jada – Thanks for not shiving me – Aces.

Turner barr
turnerbarr@gmail.com

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

3 Comments
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  • Steff
    Posted at 22:21h, 28 March

    What bar were you in? I want to try and find Hani (totally not stalking, just an intentional, meeting of good fortune… hopefully) I so want a job there, it sounds awesome… I love making pizza… and eating it 🙂

  • Turner
    Posted at 23:38h, 28 March

    I was at Cave Canem Pizzeria-Trattoria. The owner, Fabrizo, is really cool and very open to give anyone a chance. I highly recommend it.