Renowned ‘pizzaiolo’ Franco Pepe’s reveals his pizza secrets

17 January 2024
Written by
Teresa Cremona

A Q&A with Netflix Chef’s Table: Pizza star

Caiazzo, in Campania, is a small and ancient town with its origins dating back to the 9th to 7th century B.C. It is a place rich in artistic heritage and unique characteristics, but before Franco Pepe and his pizzeria Pepe in Grani, it was relatively unknown. Franco Pepe was born in Caiazzo, where his family owned the Antica Osteria Pizzeria Pepe (still a well-known and active establishment) and a grocery store. After school, Franco helped in these two businesses, learning about dough and yeast, as well as the quality of local products. He is both a perfectionist and an innovator. After his studies, he departed from the family dimension to embark on his research journey, experimenting with different flour blends, yeasts, water, variations in air humidity, and manual dough processing. His expertise and fame grew.

In 2012, in the historic center of Caiazzo, Pepe in Grani was inaugurated. Franco restored a seventeenth-century building with multiple floors, featuring a panoramic terrace and a small courtyard garden. An abandoned ruin transformed into a small gem. An entire building (including 2 rooms for accommodation) dedicated to pizza, which was a groundbreaking concept! Since then, every evening, the queue fills the alley. But when Franco Pepe envisioned, dreamed, and then launched his project, none of this was guaranteed or predictable.

Franco Pepe. Courtesy @pepe_ingrani

Do you still knead the dough in a wooden trough? And do you still mix the flours every day, taking into account external humidity?
Not anymore. I have identified three types of Italian grains, and the flours are already mixed according to my instructions.

How many pizzas do you make each evening?
800 pizzas, all hand-kneaded by 5 pizza makers. The beauty of this project is that it has grown, forming teams of young people. The protagonists are the individuals, not the technology.

What is the identifying characteristic of Franco Pepe’s pizza?
My pizzas tell the story of a unique territory, the Caserta region from which the products used in various toppings originate.

Why are your pizzas so successful?
Because we apply culinary principles to the pizzeria.

How so?
At our Pizzeria, chefs prepare and cook each ingredient separately. For example, in the Capricciosa, all ingredients used to be cooked together which, due to their different moisture levels and hence losing a lot of water, would result in all flavours blending together. In my Modified Capricciosa, each element is cooked separately according to its characteristics: the caper is crispy, fresh basil leaves are fried, and the tomato is in very thin layers, cooked in a pan. There’s a longer cooking process but no flavour contamination.

How do you explain the global success of pizza, which has transitioned from humble food to gourmet cuisine in recent years?
Creativity has increased, quality has improved, and thus, consumption has expanded, attracting a ‘higher’ clientele.

The top 10 pizzerias in Italy according to top 50 pizza, the most valuable italian guide for pizza.

According to the rankings, Campania is the region with the most ‘top pizza’ however, we have selected our top 10 to include most regions in Italy. Find the top 50 here.

Soy-Glazed Eel, Black Cabbage, and Fermented Lemon Cream. Courtesy Aromi Group

Diego Vitagliano, Campania

I Tigli, Veneto

Seu Pizza illuminati, Roma

Confine, Milano

pizzeria Apogeo, Pietrasanta

400 Gradi, Lecce

Frumento Acireale, Sicilia

Giangi pizza, Abruzzo

O fiore mio, Emilia Romagna

Sestogusto, Torino

[photo credits: @pepe_ingrani]

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