Adam Platt wrote . . . . .
All great teachers have their own strange quirks. Why should master pizza professors be any different? This thought occurs to me as Enzo Coccia, who runs a world-renowned pizza academy and two of the finest pizza restaurants in Naples, shouts, “Attack! Attack!” just inches from my ear. He’s demonstrating the proper way to work the oxygen bubbles from a mass of sticky, fast-rising dough.
His chief lieutenant, Davide Bruno, has the stocky build of a drill sergeant and, during the course of the morning’s instruction, makes a sensitive pizza novice from Honolulu leak quiet tears in front of the wood-burning oven.
There’s also Michele Triunfo, the diminutive 81-year-old master baker who’s worked in pizza joints across this ancient Italian city since he was 12. He remembers when the Yankee GIs liberated the city during the war—“they brought with them the finest flour”—and the last time the famous volcano Vesuvius erupted, in the winter of 1944. He appears, Yoda-like, when Coccia summons him, dressed in natty chef’s whites, to offer runic bits of wisdom to the fretful students. “The finest dough, it should be soft, like a baby’s bottom,” Triunfo says. When events overwhelm, as they invariably do, he throws his hands in the air and laughs.
Don Triunfo is laughing now. I’m attempting, after slamming at the dough like a wheezing prizefighter, to master what Coccia likes to call “the delicate dance” of proper Neapolitan pizza making, which includes shaping fresh dough into little panetti balls, as smooth and round as plums. They’re then molded into pie shapes, which is accomplished with a practiced sideways flip.
To Triunfo’s amusement, the balls I produce are lumpy, like sticky chunks of volcanic rock. “Don’t worry. It’s your first time,” he reassures me. When my pies are shaped like teardrops and elongated water balloons, his voice is more urgent: “Don’t rush. It will turn into chewing gum!” As we move one of the pies toward a roaring oven, he throws up his hands again, and he’s laughing so hard, I think he’s about to cry.
“This is a disaster,” the old baker says. “Now you are sweating too much! A good pizzaiolo does not sweat into his dough!”
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