Pizza VanTastica chef to use 'master' skills for new pizza school
IF you thought making pizza simply involved a bit of dough and salsa di pomodoro, then you're entirely missing the point, according to Northern Ireland's first master pizza maker Alessandro Bianco.
The Belfast man, originally from Naples, has been awarded the Maestri Pizzaioli (Master Pizza Chefs) certification – along with the title of Ambassador of the Institute of National Institute of Pizza in Ireland - so he's well qualified to expound on the intricacies of his signature dish.
Owner of mobile pizza trailer Pizza VanTastica, Alessandro is the only pizza chef in the north with the accreditation, and he's now keen that the Neapolitan tradition of professional pizza-making is practised in his adopted country.
"This is a prestigious award and I'm honoured to be the only person in Northern Ireland with this certification," he says.
"It certifies the quality of the chef, as well as the authenticity of the finished product, Pizza Napoletana. To become a maestro, a professional pizza chef has to demonstrate excellence in all aspects of the art of pizza-making, but I have a passion for what I do and can now teach others the same skills."
Unfortunately Alessandro, who has been living in Northern Ireland for 12 years, says we have been a little reluctant to embrace the true Italian "non American" style of pizza, the Northern Irish palate having become accustomed to such spurious toppings such as chicken, sweetcorn and pineapple pieces.
"I have a growing fan base who follow my van around Belfast, so I am happy to say that tastes are now changing," says the former customer services manager who switched careers after becoming disillusioned with "the big corporation mentality".
A graduate of political science, he says he is a more a "people person than a company person" and loves his career switch, championing the reputation of pizza from Italy in his custom-made van, complete with wood burning stove.
"I have been on the road with Pizza VanTastica for about three years now, and I enjoy every minute of it," he says. "It is very important to maintain regional traditions when it comes to favourite foods – and that goes for your Irish stew, as well.
"You couldn't really call your national dish 'Irish stew' if all the ingredients don't come from Ireland, so that is why, in order for me to be an authentic pizza chef from Naples, I have all my ingredients imported from Italy – from the flour and yeast, to the mozzarella.
"It is all about preserving the tastes, traditions and flavour of a region and sharing them with a new – and increasingly appreciative – audience."
The Naples native, whose wife is from Belfast, is soon to launch another aspect to his pizza business, teaching the art of making old-school Italian pizza in a purpose-built "pizza school".
"I am building a place suitable near where I live in Jordanstown, as the mobile van wouldn't be suitable for teaching," he says.
"My master chef certification means I can teach others and I am looking forward to passing on the skills and sharing my passion – but you can be sure there won't be a pineapple topping in sight."