When he talks about 50 Top Pizza, there's emotion in Peppe Cutraro's voice. After winning the title of World Pizza Champion in 2019, the 30-something Neapolitan is now the owner of the Best European Pizzeria of 2021, a prestigious ranking which rewards the best pizzas served all over the world.
Cutraro opened Peppe Pizzeria in January 2020 in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Just a month and a half after launching, his restaurant had already become popular with Parisian pizza heads. Covid arrived in March, but his pizzeria not only survived the lockdowns, it went from 29th position to being at the summit of 50 Top Pizza in a single year.
Despite the difficulties related to the health crisis, after continuing to serve takeout pizzas and winning new customers, Cutraro opened a second address in June 2021: the Casa di Peppe, located in the 6th arrondissement.
Determination and humility, instinct and humour, ambition and passion, all allowed the young Neapolitan to realise his Parisian dream. Here he tells us his story, and about his vision of 'contemporary pizza'.
From Naples to Paris, challenge upon challenge
"As a child, I was already fascinated by pizzaioli and the way they handle dough," says Cutraro. His love of pizza began at a young age, as is often the case with Neapolitans. Born in a popular area in the heart of Naples, he was only 16 when he left school and started working at his uncle's pizzeria. At 19, the desire to grow up and experience life abroad prompted him to accept an offer overnight to go and work in New York. His thirst for discovery and his ambition then led him to Malta, and then to Lausanne in Switzerland, where he settled for seven years with his wife.
In 2017, he arrived in Paris, accepting a proposal to become the executive chef pizzaiolo of the Big Mamma Group, managing pizzerias. “It was a real challenge, a difficult personal choice, but my instinct told me that it was the right path to take. I had a lot of responsibilities, I was able to grow as a manager within this group, which was revolutionising the world of pizza in France."
But Cutraro's dream was to open his own pizzeria in Paris. “France is the country that eats the most pizza in the world after Italy. Parisians are used to going to restaurants every day and have a gastronomic culture that allows them to appreciate good products."
Peppe's 'contemporary pizza'
This ambition pushed him to quit his managerial position in 2019 and return to his first love: pizza. He found a place in the Place Saint Blaise, just before winning the world pizza championship in Naples... the conditions were there to open his first Parisian pizzeria. Before doing so, however, he wanted to create a new recipe that would differentiate him from the offering he had devised for Big Mamma. This is how his 'contemporary pizza' was born, in collaboration with other pizzaioli from Mulino Caputo.
But what is contemporary pizza? "It's an 'update' of the Neapolitan pizza," he explains. In traditional pizza making, the dough is kneaded in a 'direct' way and all the ingredients are mixed at the same time (water, flour and yeast. In the preparation of the contemporary pizza, the kneading of the dough is 'indirect' and carried out in several stages. By applying the old 'biga' baking technique to pizza, he has developed a product that is lighter and easier to digest than traditional Neapolitan pizza. Visually, his pizza has puffy edges and a well-dimpled and airy dough.
“There is a real war between tradition and innovation in pizza. Some pizzaioli refuse to stray from the centuries-old traditions associated with making Neapolitan pizza. I believe that in 2021 it is important to use the new technologies and knowledge that we have at our disposal. The world of pizza is now a rapidly evolving universe, opening up to haute cuisine."
A well as being an evolution in the process of preparing pizza dough, it's also in the choice of ingredients. In his establishments, Cutraro offers pizzas prepared with quality, seasonal ingredients, carefully selected and combined in a unique way. The menu changes with the seasons, and several times a year.
"It's just the beginning. My instinct has brought me here, I will continue to follow it," he says. Cutraro wants to continue to grow his dream and encourages young people to get into the restaurant business, to work hard and to learn this difficult and wonderful profession.