Just the Name
Mention "Stefano Ferrara" among pizza nerds, and you will need to hand them an inhaler as well. This guy is a legend among the pizzascenti and among people who respect great craftsmanship and tradition. He's a third-generation oven-builder from Naples — from one of only two remaining oven-building families there.
Setting the Scene
Oh. Let's back out a bit so you can get an idea where all this is taking place. Ms. Arpaia's pizzeria will be called Donatella's; the place is at 184 Eighth Avenue, near the southeast corner of 19th Street. There's to be a bar around the corner on 19th called DBar.
If it had a wood handle, this would have been a very timeless shot, I think. When Slice arrived, Mr. Ferrara was close to completing the cupola, the dome of the oven, and was mortaring the courses of bricks together.
The bricks for the dome are laid with the help of a form built with sand (the dark stuff you can see through the uncompleted hole in the top.
The Man Himself
And there's Stefano Ferrara placing bricks with the help of his assistant, Lello. The floor beneath the oven had been clearly reinforced, with concrete poured over thick metal rods.
Extra Floor Piece
As our translator Maurizio De Rosa explained here, this represents one-quarter of the oven floor. Get three more pieces like it, and you're in business with the base of the oven. This was an extra piece that Ferrara had brought along. They're very fragile, and Ferrara wanted an extra on hand during shipping. Donatella is looking for ideas on how to use it decoratively in the place.
At this point in the process, Mr. Ferrara is just about done with the cupola. He had run out of bricks and was waiting for Lello to do some rough cuts and replenish the supply.
Lello brings some bricks that he has cut to roughly the right size and shape. Ferrara will use the blunt side of an ax to shape them just right. Donatella here was explaining that the building of the dome has to go very fast so it can all dry evenly — which is why Ferrara was not in any hurry to jump down and pose in a picture with her.
Lello Cutting Bricks
Lest you think oven-building is a rustic process done completely by hand, here's Lello using a power saw to shape bricks for the last couple of courses.
Getting the Ax
But, yeah, the process is mostly the same it has been for years and years. Here, Ferrara chisels a brick to the right size while talking to Lello offscreen.
And That's That
Ferrara lays the last bit of the puzzle in place. Now it's time to fill in the gaps you see here.
There's the Pose
But first, it's time for a break. Ferrara now has time to post with Donatella. After this, he took a short rest before pouring a layer of cement over the dome.
Mixing the Cement
Lello mixed batches of cement in large plastic buckets, seemingly doing it by feel. If it looked and felt too runny, he'd add more of the cement mix from the bags he and Ferrara had brought from Italy.
This part went by in a flash. Ferrara uses a cup to get the cement into tricky areas, but at times he'd just pour the remaining cement on in a slosh. The stuff begins to set very quickly, so he and Lello were working fast.
This Part Looked Fun
Remember finger paints or Play Dough? Watching this kinda made you want to get your hands in there. But this ain't kid's stuff, so it's best left to the sure hands of Stefano Ferrara.