Starita mentored Kesté's Roberto Caporuscio in the ways of pizza and was in New York City over the weekend guest-teaching classes at Caporuscio's pizza school. On Friday night, Starita was behind the counter making pizzas for lucky Kesté customers who showed up between 5 and 7 p.m. Slice stopped by to watch the man in action.
OK, enough backstory. What you're probably wondering is What the heck is on that dude's head? Think of it as the the original pizza-delivery heat bag. Naples pizza street vendors used to load these up with pizzas and sell pies out of them on the streets of Napoli. I noticed one sitting on the counter at Kesté, started asking some questions about it, and before I knew it, Starita was loading it up with pizzas as a demonstration. More pics after the jump.
Though some sources I've read have noted that the false bottom of these canisters were lined with coals to keep the pizzas hot, Starita told me that this was not the case and that pizzas were simply loaded in and sold as is.
Though he's showing us one single pizza lying flat here, Starita said that street-pizza vendors would load these with multiple pies, folding them (pizza a libretto).
Ah! So the fold hold technique you often see New Yorkers employing has its roots in Naples.
For the purposes of this demonstration, Starita only loaded two pies, folding them both in half.
But he said that vendors could load as many as four to a platform in these things. (He mentioned "eight" pizzas at one point, so I'm assuming these may have had an additional insert to cram in more pizza.
Starita has some experience using one of these himself — delivering pizza to a most notable patron, Pope John Paul II (that's him in the photo above). During the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Roman Catholic Church held a special ceremony to celebrate pizzamakers, and Starita created a special pie for the occasion, the Pizza del Papa. It's on the menu at Kesté and is topped with butternut squash cream, smoked mozzarella, artichoke, and red and yellow peppers.