Everyone loves a good pizza. But let’s be honest, as easily as you can find a good pizza, you can find one that leaves you wanting for more. One man who understands that is Yonkers raised Bruno DiFabio.
In a city that prides itself on great pizza, DiFabio has set himself apart as one New York’s finest pizza makers. His mastery of the artisan techniques on Naples, Italy and the production speed of a Manhattan pizza crap shoot have led him to build a pizza empire. His talents have led him to amassing five shops across New York and Connecticut.
This success has recently brought the attention of the television world as he will be a guest judge on the hit Food Network show Chopped. His inclusion in the show made perfect sense as the episode, which airs on Super Bowl Sunday at 9pm, will be the first ever pizza themed episode of Chopped.
Bruno is an absolutely untapped personality in the culinary world. Getting the opportunity to speak with him, and hear about his passion was a pleasure. To get you ready for our interview, watch him getting jacked up over how fast he can make pizzas.
Here is our interview with Bruno DiFabio.
How did the opportunity come about to be a judge on Chopped?
I’m guessing that the casting director had seen me before on one of my other television engagements. The network had me come down for an interview and taped me to see how I was on camera. They even had their iPhones out filming me. A week later I got a phone call that they wanted me to be a judge, and I of course, accepted.
What was it like working with big name television chefs Amanda Freitag and Alex Gaurnaschelli? Had you met them before?
No we had never met. In fact, they didn’t know too much about me coming in. That said, they were completely amazing towards me, totally welcoming. They both rolled out the red carpet, and it really put me at ease. I mean you see someone like Amanda Freitag on TV always acting so nice, but after working all day with them I realized that they just really are that nice.
Without giving up too much, what were the biggest challenges in your opinions for contestants on Chopped?
Chopped is the number one food competition on air right now, really in the history of food TV. You have 20-30 minutes to take a blind box and make something great. But it’s unusual materials and ingredients, you aren’t cooking with scallions here. And of course the pantry has more main stream ingredients but the basket items have to be main components, and that’s difficult.
For this episode we had four great chefs from cutting edge, eclectic restaurants but they didn’t have much pizza experience. It seemed at first they were upset because to them, pizza may not a top thing in the gastronomic pyramid. Although many top chefs start pizza concepts, I think they felt
being stuck in this cuisine, it was somewhat of a handicap for these kind of chefs.
That brings up a great point, I’ve had a lot of bad pizza in my time. What would you say the most common mistakes restaurants usually make with what they think is so easy to pull off?
I went last week to a pizza place in Manhattan. They put $1.5 million into the place, with an Acunto pizza oven straight from Naples, Italy. I was back in the kitchen checking out the operation and noticed 5 or 6 things off the bat that were ridiculous. One is they do not stage their dough. They were doing Neapolitan style pizza with with Neapolitan oven with the classic method “in giornata” (which means made and used in the same day). With this dough you mix everything together at the same time and it is not supposed to be refrigerated. You have to keep it at room temperature.
So after they try to have me go sit at a table, I wait a bit and watch their pizza maker make a Margarita, probably the simplest pizza on earth. I tasted it, and the texture was chewy, but in a bad way. It was like chewing gum, and you don’t want that from pizza. That is a huge and big mistake.
As a pizza maker, get a recipe for dough and follow it blindly, with the exact ingredients. There are tons of different flours from families that put so much pride and time into these items. You could have this beautifully crafted flour but if you use the wrong temperature, wrong yeast, wrong fermentation method, wrong temperature water it’s not what these millers meant it to be. And the top chefs don’t understand this as much as they should. Most chefs think us pizza makers, we are dumb zips. It’s not that way, its an art.
What is your favorite type of Pizza to both to make and eat?
Well, I have been making New York style pizza since I was 10 years old at my grandfather’s shop. I have been doing that my whole life so of course there is some pride in that. But for the past 10 years, I spent so much time studying all the raw materials from the grains, to the tomatoes and the cheese. By becoming such a student, I’ve been able to tweak my knowledge of these raw materials and improve on the craft that I have always loved.
As far as eating, Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village is the best, they always have been. They make an even better pizza than me.
Do you see yourself taking on more Television projects in the future, perhaps becoming the television authority on pizza?
Yes of course, I have been asked to participate in a few food and travel show about pizza but the right one hasn’t come up quite yet. I have a lot of quirks and I am kind of an oddball. I bring an endearing character and a controversial character at the same time. Spread the word for me folks, I am ready for a show. Just give me a chance and put me in coach!
As a New York guy, what kind of impact do you think hosting a Super Bowl has had on the area?
I am New York football fan, I support both teams, but I’m more of a Jets fan. You watch SportsCenter and they act like it’s in New York with everyone set up in Manhattan, but the game’s in East Rutherford, New Jersey. They are doing everything, all these fan festivities and things like that in Times Square, and they are great for fans and a lot of fun, but it’s in East Rutherford.
In my opinion, New York can handle all the huge events, no matter what it is. I heard that ticket prices had plummeted to a fraction of the cost. With both teams being from so far away really hurt the hype of the game, especially because of the weather.
So, in your opinion, do you think the NFL will try to do this again in New York?
People I’ve talked to in the sports industry have told me they don’t think it would happen in the next 50 years. I have heard talk of an outdoor game in a cold weather city every for years, but do you really think this would work in Boston or Chicago? They had to plan for the worst with the weather. Everyone thinks of the impact on the game itself, but think If flights got cancelled due to weather. Nobody wants to see empty seats at the Super Bowl. I don’t see it happening in cold weather cities for a while, leave it to California, Arizona, and Florida.
Do you have a team you are rooting for in the Super Bowl?
I have always liked the underdog, so originally I was thinking the Seahawks. But no I find out they are a favorite in some places? You cant consider Peyton an underdog, so I don’t really know what I think. I just hope it’s a good game.
You have a lot of experience at trade shows and exhibitions showing off your pizza making skills, there is even talk of you trying to become the fastest pizza maker in the world. What would it mean to you to break the Guiness World Record for the fastest pizza? How important is it to you?
To be honest, I’d rather win that than a culinary food competition. It’s a point of pride for me, I started as a kid doing a man’s job at 10 years old. I was a kid trying to work in a hard world. In a kitchen I always had to prove myself. When I got my chance to make pizzas, and started to overhear people saying I was faster, neater, cleaner than they guys whose job it was, it made me realize when you can do an adult’s job at a young age… I realized it’s a big deal.
It’s always my job to be better than everyone. That’s how I approach this thing. So growing up in a fast paced, New York setting, you needed to be moving quickly and efficiently while still putting out a pizza that a family or a couple will love.
Do you have any opinion of whether home cooks should try to perfect pizza at home, or if they should just seek out the best in their city?
I totally am for the advancement for independent pizza maker. I am all about going and and trusting these guys. But use one of my dough recipes if you insist on doing it at home. Otherwise go check them out and trust them, some of these guys are really good. It’s their life’s work.
Overall, it was great speaking with Bruno DiFabio. His passion for pizza is so evident, it’s refreshing. After talking a bit more about home cooks trying to make pizza, Bruno gave a few tips on how to make a better pie at home, and even gave us a great recipe for Buffalo Wing Pizza.