Montreal takes a big bite
Long regarded as a staple of Italian culture, Neapolitan pizza has never been more popular, recently earning an endowment of global proportions. In December of 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added the art of Neapolitan-style pizza making to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Such high regard for this classic Italian dish is nothing new in Montreal; the city has seen an influx of Neapolitan pizzerias and devotees over the last few years. “Since I’ve been in Montreal I’ve noticed the same explosion of Neapolitan pizzas that took place in Italy 10 years ago,” says Mirko D’Agata, the executive chef of Montreal’s Pizzeria N° 900. “Everybody started eating and making Neapolitan pizza.” And as a testament to the pizza’s mass appeal, there are 16 Pizzeria N° 900 restaurants throughout the province and another three are scheduled to open later on this year.
According to chef Erik Mandracchia of Fiorellino restaurant, Neapolitan pizza is popular because it’s an enduring classic that never goes out of style. “It is a simple thing to make but because it is so unique it can actually become a complex process to achieve the desired result,” he says. According to Mandracchia, the secret to great Neapolitan pizza is to be meticulous while adding a touch of finesse. “It’s important to respect the dough as a living thing. It will tell you when it is ready to be baked.
Temperature is an important aspect as the dough will react to the environment around it. With the simplicity of three basic ingredients, a pizzaiolo may create different pizzas: Margherita, Caprese, Rustica. These are the cornerstones of the most popular styles in Montreal.”
In Italy, and across the world, generations of skilled pizzaioli like Mirko D’Agata have perfected this culinary art. The Torino, Piedmont native is a pizza maker and an instructor with credentials from the prestigious Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Last year he won second place in the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, an annual event that showcases the best pie-makers in the world. He has lived in Montreal for the past six years and has been honing his pizza-making skills since he was 16. D’Agata says he’s noticed that thanks to the increasing demand for Neapolitan pizza, pizzaioli are held in a higher regard. “It’s brought back honour to the craft,” he says.
Making Neapolitan pizza has four distinct phases: preparing the dough, rolling it into a shape, baking it in an extremely hot wood fired stove and rotating it at regular intervals to ensure uniformity. “I think the almost theatrical experience of seeing your pizza being made – from the shaping to the baking in a beautiful wood burning oven – is also part of the charm that has customers coming back,” says Mandracchia.
At La Bottega, located in the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy, the culture of this craft has elevated itself beyond simple dining. La Bottega co-owners Massimo and Fabrizio Covone have secured a legacy fit for the UNESCO standard. Fabrizio is a recognized master pizzaiolo, having studied the trade in Italy. “Our family was one of the first to showcase a true Neapolitan style pizza to Montreal,” explains Massimo.
La Bottega lives up to its name as a haven for the beloved dish. “We use quality ingredients imported from Naples. We aim to produce a Neapolitan pizza with the recognition it deserves,” says Massimo, who believes Neapolitan pizza’s freshness and simplicity appeal to Montreal foodies. “In general, diners that come out to a restaurant have become more conscious of the quality of the food they are eating. The Neapolitan pizza is considered to be a healthy option versus the western thick style we are accustomed to.” After all, he adds, it’s an art form in true Italian style. “Neapolitan pizza is a delicate creation,” he says. We must give it the respect it deserves and in turn its authenticity will give you a soul-satisfying pleasure.”