The upper crust: SA chef's luxe R450 pizza takes top prize in global contest
Seafood pizza 'composed to be last word in fine dining', says Fortunato Mazzone
If SA has anything approaching a celebrity chef, then Fortunato Mazzone of Forti Grill & Bar in Pretoria fits the mould.
Forti, as he's known, is a damn fine restauranteur who is passionate about anything he does. So it was no surprise to those who know him that when he decided to enter a prestigious pizza competition, he didn’t only take the South African title but the global prize as well.
His winning creation, the "Oro dal Mare", is as flamboyant and OTT as the chef himself — he describes it as a “pizza composed to be the last word in fine dining”.
At R450 a pop, this pizza doesn’t come cheap. The topping includes a full Natal rock lobster, prawns, calamari, clams, basil, ripe Neapolitan tomatoes from Salerno, Italy, and imported buffalo mozzarella.
More than 200 chefs from around the world took part in the 2020 Global Pizza Challenge (now in its 11th year), with national winners selected to compete on an international level.
Mazzone explains why he entered: “It all came about over an argument about whether one has to be young to innovate. I was teased by my colleagues from the Academy of Chefs about being too old to still make pizza.
“I am 52, but I am still full of ideas. As they say, ‘Ek is oud maar nog nie koud nie!’ [I am old but not yet cold].
"I believe in myself, but I was still pleasantly surprised to take the outright win in the face of stiff and inventive competition from some fine chefs.”
So how did Mazzone come up with his creation?
“I believe pizza has been denigrated in SA to common, franchise, nasty, convenience food - instead of the religion it is in my home town of Naples, which is also coincidentally the home of real pizza," he says.
"Because my restaurant is fine dining, I decided to take pizza to the next level with true fine-dining ingredients - and yes, unfortunately that does come at a price commensurate to their luxury.”
His customers have been effusive in their praise and the establishment has sold more than 600 Oro dal Mare pizzas since he took the win and put his creation on the menu.
“It will be [on the menu] for the foreseeable future as it is fresh and super-innovative and has become something of a talking point.”
MAZZONE'S TIPS FOR MAKING GREAT PIZZA:
- Open (stretch) it by hand – don’t crush the air out of the dough.
- Use great quality imported Italian pizza flour and a fantastic mother yeast starter for the dough, and quality ingredients for the topping.
- Bake it in a high-temperature oven. A wood-fired oven is always first prize, but specialised Italian fire brick ovens can give excellent results.