Louie Bossi’s Ristorante Bar and Pizzeria in Fort Lauderdale hosted Italian chef Gennaro Luciano on Saturday. It was Luciano’s first visit to the U.S. as part of a four-city tour (Washington, D.C., Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami).
Luciano hails from Naples, Italy, where his family owns Pizzeria Port’Alba, the oldest pizzeria in the world, established in 1830. The pizzeria carries the VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) designation, which means that the ingredients and the pizzas adhere to certain criteria.
The chef, dressed in a white short-sleeved chef coat, white pants, and even white sneakers, found a spot in the busy kitchen and prepared the surface with a dusting of flour. A cart was wheeled out, containing trays of perfectly formed balls of dough. “We made this dough at 11 p.m. last night,” said Massimo Lollo, export manager for Polselli flour. “It has been at ambient temperature for 13 hours, so it is very elastic. Here, feel.” It was elastic and perfectly smooth.
The first pizza Luciano made was to test the dough. He deftly slapped the dough around with a thwap! and kneaded it with his fingers into a slightly imperfect circle. He topped it with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, whole basil leaves, and extra virgin olive oil. Louie Bossi, chef-partner of his eponymous spot, jumped in to help, using a pizza peel (one of those large, pie-sized spatulas) to slide it into the 700-degree wood-fired pizza oven.
Bossi used the peel to constantly rotate the pizza and gave it a broiling at the end by holding it closer to the top of the oven, which registered 759 degrees. After it came out of the oven, Luciano inspected it. “This is a trial. Now, he understands something,” said Lollo.
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Luciano, happy with the trial, immediately began making another pizza. He began calling for ingredients in Italian, with Lollo translating. “Where’s the Parmigiano? He wants to do thees-a. Do you have whole basil? Not cut?”
This next pizza was topped with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced eggplant, a simple tomato sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Like the first, it took a spin in the oven for about five minutes, then got another sprinkling of cheese, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and more fresh basil. Luciano insisted that the pizzas be eaten as soon as they came out of the oven. More calls for ingredients. “Un poco di pomodori,” said Luciano. Rino Manzo, a big man in a cantaloupe-colored shirt and president of Manzo Food Sales (a distributor of Italian ingredients), translated this time. “Do you have yellow tomatoes and washed lemons?” he asked Bossi.
A beautiful pizza with yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon zest was next. After that, Luciano made a stuffed pizza with prosciutto. All of the pizzas were laid out on tables for sampling. It’s true: Better ingredients do make better pizza. The demo wrapped up with a photo session that included Luciano and Bossi on red Vespas and a lot of back-slapping and kissing.
“Do you guys play bocce?” asked Bossi. “C’mon, Massimo, let’s have a game of bocce ball. You and me versus Rino and Luciano.”