James and Thom Elliot are two brothers on a mission to bring great quality Neapolitan pizza to the streets of London from the back of their three-wheeled Ape Italian van. Called The Pizza Pilgrims, they began their project two years ago when Thom noticed the growing popularity of street food across London.
As Thom explains: "We wanted to do something with food and something with street food. I was working with a social media agency at the time and you could see that this was really starting to come together with the whole twitter thing. So, we settled on doing something with a street food vibe. We'd just been to try this proper Neapolitan pizza in London for the first time and we thought it tasted incredible. Pizza seemed to be an obvious food that noone was doing really well in a street food capacity."
Starting in Calabria they travelled the length of Italy hunting out the best and worst pizzas, passionate producers and all the knowledge required to make the tastiest and proper traditional Neapolitan pizza. 6-weeks in their van, a trip that saw them consume hundreds of pizzas and put on 3 stone in weight in just 4-weeks. Followed every slice of the way by a film crew who made a TV series for the Food Network.
It’s no surprise that James and Thom took their passion for food this far. Both their parents have always ran gastro-pubs. “Since around 7 we've always lived in around pubs with proper kitchens. Even then I gravitated towards front of house, the bar and management and James went towards the kitchen - so between us we cover a wide range of things," says Thom.
"The seeds of the idea came about when James went to Lucca and did a pizza course... He'd seen this wood fire oven culture out there. Instead of BBQs in the garden everyone had these wood fire ovens, we loved these little iconic Italian three wheeled vans and we wondered why no one had ever tried to place one of these wood fire ovens in the back of one of these vans. We subsequently found out why and that's because it goes about 20 miles an hour.”
And that was that - at snail like pace - they cruised the coastal and country roads of Italy, each day meeting with producers to better understand the culture attached to pizza. What did they discover? What's the secret to great pizza? "It's all about the dough - this is the reason for Neapolitan pizza to exist - this is why it doesn't have loads of toppings etc. Slow rise, great flour, perfect dough and fire. This is what a proper pizzeria would pride itself on - no one leaves the crust at a Neapolitan pizzeria."
Their book Pizza Pilgrims: Recipes from the Backstreets of Italy, was released May 23rd and contains a series of recipes collected from their trip through Italy. You can also find them everyday at Berwick street market.
Thom and James’ newly acquired pizza skills will be on display at this year’s Taste of London food festival where the duo will hold four days of pizza making and tasting sessions (from 20th to 23th of June) at the S.Pellegrino stand. Don’t miss it.