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My Pizza Oven: Alberto of 'Forza Pizza'
This week's interview is with someone whom you may recognize from the pizza-website world and/or from his comments here on Slice. Get to know Alberto of Forza Pizza! —The Mgmt.
First, educate the non-Italian speakers (and me) on forza, would you?
The word forza is a term of encouragement in Italian and translates to "force" or "strength." An appropriate way to use it would be to cheer on your favorite team, as in "Forza, Bears!"
Grazie. Forza, Alberto! Now, your oven. When did you put it in? Did you build it yourself or have someone build it?
The dome was completed in the summer of 2007, but the face brick and chimney weren't added till the following year, making the oven usable. Chicago winters, being away at school, summer internships, and out-of-state jobs delayed construction. It's still not finished, but every time I try to put a Saturday aside to work on it, I end up cooking in it instead. Big dilemma. [Nice dilemma to have, I think. —The Mgmt.]
I used other people's photos to come up with an oven design of my own and used Google Sketchup to model it. I built it with help from my cousin, Matt. He owns a masonry company, so he came by whenever he could to help. Without him there would be no oven.
Construction is ongoing, and it's hard to put a time on how long it's been. Too much stop and go.
How often do you use it?
Obviously as much as possible and not often enough, but I would say about 2 to 4 times a month. Last summer was its first real action.
Do you cook anything besides pizza in it?
Not yet, but why waste a fire-up on something other than pizza?
What style of pizza do you normally do?
I categorize a lot of pizzerias as "Progressive Neapolitan," and I would like to think that description fits me as well. It means building on the foundation of a traditional Neapolitan pizza whether you are herbalizing the sauce, stiffening the crust a bit, or anything else along those lines.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination to make?
There aren't many things I wouldn't put arugula on, so my favorite combo is a Margherita with arugula. Adding spicy-green freshness and crunch to an already beautiful Margherita makes my mouth tingle.
Do you cook for friends, family, neighbors?
Of course! I cook for everyone. It's definitely the best way to celebrate the oven, but it doesn't leave much time for experimentation. I have a recurring nightmare that 50 people will leave my house let down and hungry because I decided to test out a new dough recipe on them. Spooky.
What does your family think of your pizza madness?
They sometimes accuse me of being too controlling around the prep table, so that can't be fun for them. You'll also hear my fiancée and mom use the phrases "Can we talk about something other than pizza?" or "How about we eat something else tonight?" Everyone totally supports the madness, though. They love playing with the oven and eating pizza, which can be great at times, but sometimes I feel like I've created the toughest pizza critics in Chicago!
Sounds like a win-win for everyone. Now, on to some general pizza questions ... The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?
Of course I remember my first. Back when Porretta's was still just a four-table pizzeria, my brother, sister, and I would storm in there, throw raw dough against the walls, eat pizza, and drink Upper 10 through a straw. The best. Porretta's is still around and pizza still drives the business, but it's now a full-blown trattoria. My grandpa, Pat Porretta, is the owner and I'm always there eating or helping to make pizzas on the weekends. The best Chicago-style thin around and that's not a biased opinion ;) Needless to say, growing up with a pizzeria in the family greatly contributed to my pizza obsession.
My taste in pizza has come a long way since my first slice. Five years ago I had no clue what Caputo "00" flour was, and now I've become extremely partial to pizza Napoletana and unique topping combinations.
Ah! That explains a lot. Where do you go for pizza in your area when you're not making your own and not eating at the family place?
Like I said, I'll never find a better thin crust than Porretta's, but I also think Spacca Napoli does the best Neapolitan in the city. Whoever filled out the Midwest section of your "Pizza Bracket" obviously feels differently, but I won't let all that chaos increase my stress level again.
What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?
Ahh, the famous question. Crust is most important to me for sure. It takes the most time and requires the most love. But, I've had pizzas where the sauce comes out of nowhere and takes everything up a notch. It's like how Jordan was the center of attention every game but occasionally Pippen would sneak in and drop 35 out of nowhere.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
I think anything is fair game. You like what you like. So I'll answer with the last thing I would put on a pizza: ketchup, mustard, pickles, and ground beef. Seeing pictures of cheeseburger pizzas makes me shiver. The only mature word to describe it is "yucky."
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
Can't say I've had many weird pizzas so I guess my answer would be the zucchini flower and anchovy pizza at Forno di Campo dei Fiori in Rome. It was remarkable, but I guess the reason it's weird is because that was the first time I saw that topping combination.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
I think it's like 4,000 miles. I was lucky enough to eat pizza in Rome and Napoli last summer, and it was mind-blowing!
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
Yeah, sure. Ever since I built my oven and website, people have been acting differently when they eat with me. It's pretty funny. When I'm with others getting some pizza I often hear disclaimers like "Yeah, this pizza is just OK, I don't know, it's all right." This way the person covers their ass if I happen not to enjoy it as much as them. Or when I'm out somewhere and there's pizza and I don't scarf down six or seven slices, I'll get the "Ohhhh, he only likes his own pizza!" Haha, so untrue. This kind of stuff bothers me and makes me feel awkward. Yeah, I have my opinions on pizza, but so do you, and if they aren't the same, then who cares?!?! I swear I'm not going to judge you. Relax and eat! I didn't build an oven so I can be a pizza snob and a harsh critic. That would be miserable for me. I built it because I love pizza.