The pizza it is a very popular dish at any party, special dinner or even office lunch. But just because it’s always welcome doesn’t mean it’s always good.
Business Insider went to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele —known for her cameo in the film Eat Pray Lovestarring Julia Roberts—to speak with its owner, Francesco Zimone, and his chief pizzaiolo, Michele Rubini, about the pillars of a good pizza.
His restaurant was born in Naples (Italy) in 1870 and since then it has spread throughout the world. Zimone is the owner of the US restaurants, including his most recent, opened in New York, a metropolis known for its love of pizza.
“It’s the simplest answer on the planet,” Zimone tells Business Insider when they ask how to know if the products of a pizzeria are worth what they cost. “You walk in, you look at the pizza and you stay or you go.”
Zimone and Rubini share what are the main red flags of the restaurants that serve Neapolitan pizza.
Does it look appetizing?
“You don’t even have to try it to know if the product is good or bad,” says Zimone. “Just look at it.”
According to the specialist, there is a particular detail that is very relevant: the way the cheese is melted on the pizza can say a lot about it. If it seems like a separate entity from everything else, and the colors of the cheese and sauce create a stark contrast instead of blending well, most likely it is not a great quality cheese or it has been cooked incorrectly.
Zimone claims that pizza is a food that does not admit lies, which means that, as a pizza maker, it is very difficult to fake it, and the visual clues will give you away if you do.
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Both he and Rubini agree that using highly manipulated or processed products is a difficult decision to recover from. “You can’t do anything with processed cheese,” Zimone says. “It is what it is: disgusting.”
Similarly, Zimone reveals that the smell of a restaurant should make you want to eat. As soon as you walk into a pizzeria, notice the aromas in the air. If you immediately think, “Okay, I want to eat,” that’s a good sign. If that scent doesn’t hit you right away, you might want to try going somewhere else.
Does the restaurant offer a long list of impossible-to-find ingredients?
Zimone says he doesn’t understand pizzerias that offer such a variety of ingredients.
“I’m sure you can put whatever you want on a pizza and it will taste more or less correct,” he reveals to Business Insider. “But if you start putting the typical pineapple or you put chicken or meat, I mean, what for?”
Instead, he prefers it to be simple and traditional, and for this reason, There are only 8 ingredients in the kitchen of Pizza da Michele, including the sauce and 2 types of cheese. However, Zimone remembers what he calls a pizza “American style” in Italy, with hot dogs and fries.
While Zimone is a stickler for ingredients, Rubini focused more on their quality. The chef says he is more willing to be creative with ingredients than his partner, but in any case variety should not compromise quality.
The tomatoes, the cheese, the meat… everything should be good on its own. “If you choose the right ingredients, you can’t go wrong,” says Rubini.
Rubini and Zimone explain to Business Insider that all ingredients are imported from Italy for each of its 3 US locations.
Is the oven at the right temperature?
“Pizza tells you if the oven is ready or not,” Rubini said, adding that when making pizza, “every step is important, and they’re all important in the same way.” That means making sure the oven is at the right temperature is just as important as using the right amount of sauce.
According to him, andt’s possible to tell if the oven is at the right temperature just by looking at the pizza. If the tomato is too dry or the mozzarella almost disappears visually, you know the oven was too cold, Rubini explains. But sometimes the opposite happens.
“Sometimes it’s too hot and you don’t see the bubbly tomato, you don’t see the cheese melting as it should,” he explains. “That’s another red flag.”
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On a larger scale, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana sets standards on what makes a pizza officially Neapolitan. But Rubini and Zimone say to Business Insider They are not part of the association.
“Anyone can make a Neapolitan pizza,” says Zimone. “It’s just a style.” Therefore, when considering the red flags He clarified that it shouldn’t have anything to do with the person or people making the food. The important thing is love, attention and craftsmanship.
“Making a pizza is very simple”, he continues “Making a great pizza is not easy”, he concludes.