International pizza consultant Anthony Falco schools us on the perfect slice
Fresh Out The Oven
Words— Jeremy Freed
As job titles go, it doesn’t get much more enviable than “International Pizza Consultant.” As such, Anthony Falco travels the world helping aspiring restaurateurs open shop, with an emphasis first and foremost on making excellent pizza. After learning to cook from his Sicilian grandmother and opening a successful pommes-frites operation in Seattle, he was an early hire at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, where he oversaw multiple locations under the title of “Pizza Csar.” Now a free agent, Falco has helped bring great pizza to cities around the globe, from Sao Paolo to Orlando to Bangkok. He took a break from recipe testing at General Assembly Pizza in Toronto (another recent client) to have a bite to eat and teach us some tricks of the trade.
What’s this pizza we’re eating called?
The Pink Panther. It’s a limited-edition with rosé cream sauce, shrimp, garlic, parsley, scallions, jalapeño and a little mozzarella... some dried garlic chips on there, too. It's like eating shrimp scampi with some cheesy garlic bread.
It's not the worst thing that could happen to somebody! I'm not really ever trying to reinvent the wheel. I try to take great flavours that work in the real world and steer them towards pizza.
Is there a trick to turning a non-pizza dish into a pizza?
You have to translate the flavours. You can't take caccio e pepe and put it on a pizza. It's pasta water, cheese and black pepper, and that doesn't really work in a high-heat pizza oven. So how do you get that? We have a Sergeant Pepe [at General Assembly] with taleggio cream, parmesan rinds, mozzarella and tons of black pepper. You get the feeling of that overload of black pepper and the creaminess, which is what defines cacio e pepe, but besides black pepper the actual components are totally different.
Aside from developing a menu, what’s the most important service you provide?
The biggest thing I do is provide a series of systems that allow my clients to make great pizza consistently. If you can make a great pizza once or twice, who cares? I always tell my clients, 'The easiest part of what we do is making great pizza.' It's pretty straightforward, but now you've got to make it hundreds of times a day, train a team, all of that stuff. It would be nice to have a little five-seat restaurant making 40 pizzas a day, but I don't know how you make money doing that.
Do you have a signature style?
I've never made the same pizza twice. Other than using naturally-leavened dough, my style of pizza will always be different because I'm always trying to leverage what’s local. There are three major global styles of pizza. Chain pizza—they want their pizza to be the same everywhere in the world. Neapolitan VPN [Vera Pizza Napolitana—the governing body of Neapolitan pizza]—they want to be the same everywhere in the world, with Italian flour, Italian cheese, Italian tomatoes. I want my pizza to be different everywhere in the world by using great local ingredients.
Do you get tired of eating pizza all the time?
Pizza testing is brutal work. To eat pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner ten days in a row, it’s kind of a form of torture. It's like, be careful what you wish for. What makes this a great job is the people that I work with and the challenges. The eating pizza part is really just breaking it down into texture, flavour and visual aspects.
Your first restaurant was a Belgian frites shop in Seattle. What did you learn from running that place?
I learned I didn’t want to stand in front of a fryer six days a week [laughs]. I was young and I had this idea that Seattle needed a pommes-frites place. I was in Amsterdam for a little while and they have them everywhere… The weather’s kind of similar and it’s a great late-night thing, high-margins on paper, it’s great. And it was beloved, I have to say, as a restaurant for drunk people. I used to get chefs coming after work and they’d say, ‘These are really good fries.’
What made them so good?
I was doing it the hard way, buying local potatoes, peeling them by hand, cutting them, blanching them at a super low temperature, resting them, chilling them and then re-frying them at a really high temperature and serving them in a paper cone with sea salt. But deep fryer oil gets everywhere. I’d much rather smell like a campfire when I get home than a deep fryer. I never get tired of cooking in a wood oven.
That sounds like valuable lesson.
As a consultant people are paying me for all of the mistakes I’ve made over the last 15 years. I know a lot of what not to do and when starting a restaurant. That’s like gold.
What would you say to someone who wants to start their own pizza place?
Usually I want to know why they want to open a pizza restaurant. The right answer is because they love pizza. Because in those dark times when you’re pushing an 18-hour day, the love of pizza is the light at the end of the tunnel.