Pizza was the hot topic for two New Haven entities that recently added chef’s classes to their menu of offerings, part of marketing strategies aimed at growing business and community participation in a challenging economy.
Westville Village Renaissance Alliance held its inaugural Guest Chefs @ Westville class the weekend before last at Stone Hearth at Whalley and West Rock avenues — the first of what is slated to be a series of cooking classes. Just a couple of weeks earlier and less than a mile away, Colin Caplan’s Taste of New Haven, known for its creative, food-oriented walking and biking tours, visited Pat DeRiso’s pizza kitchen at Ernie’s Pizzeria as part of its new cooking classes.
Lucky for Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern, and Bar, Dr. Dough — a.k.a. Dr. Gabriele Iacona — is only visiting. Iacona was featured as WVRA’s guest chef to demonstrate his take on an old world favorite: Pizza. Confessing that “I am not a professional cook,” an apron-clad Iacona stood before a sold-out class ready to share his secret family dough recipes from his native Rome, Italy, dating back hundreds of years.
When not mending hearts as a cardiac surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the visiting Yale fellow loves to make pizza with farm-fresh toppings that can include onions, peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, zucchini, arugula, eggplant, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, and even Nutella. “Making pizza,” said Iacona, “allows time to spend with my wife and children. It’s a time for relaxing my mind which makes me a better professional.”
Golden-crusted pizzas were already emerging from Stone Hearth’s brick oven when guests arrived for the demonstration. Staffing the busy kitchen and dining areas was Iacona’s wife, Dr. Fiametta Piersigilli, and their children, Giulia, 14, Riccardo,12, Tomasso, 5, and Suzanna, the family nanny. During a pause in Iocana’s dough-making demonstration, Riccardo took the floor to discuss the science of ingredient interactions in the dough-making process. Later, Giulia regaled the audience with a brief summary of pizza history, from its humble beginnings in Naples as a food prepared by poor people to its migration north to Rome, before finding its way to the New World.
At the demonstration table, Iocona was joined by a volunteer who helped mix the basic dough ingredients that, depending on proportions, can yield a variety of results. All-purpose flour, water, yeast, oil, and salt are the only ingredients required, but some waiting (a good time for a glass of wine) and the order in which the ingredients are added is critical. Bottled or filtered water is highly recommended. Though the demonstration was presented with metric system measures, the recipes will be posted to the WVRA website in U.S. customary units.
Stone Hearth owner Peter Gremse (pictured), who owned the former Delaney’s, donated the use of his pizza kitchen and wine. Looking on as he tended to regular restaurant business, Gremse seemed happy about hosting the visitors:
“This is for WVRA — their purpose is to make Westville a better place. The guest-chef concept is wonderful,” he said.
Event co-organizer and WVRA board member Jane Snaider (center), who owns a marketing consulting firm, explained that the guest-chef program will primarily feature non-professional chefs, though not exclusively.
“We’d love to get some celebrities, politicians, people from New Haven’s international community — anyone who loves to cook,” she said.
With the success of Sunday’s class, other venues and even private homes are under consideration for future Guest Chef classes which will be held monthly. The classes are are “a work in progress” said Snaider, with the next one scheduled for Stone Hearth Restaurant on May 3, with one of Connecticut’s top chefs and Westville resident, Arlene Ghent. Those interested in teaching a future guest chef class should contact the WVRA office.
Pizza For The Books
Stating that “we are the center of the pizza world,” Taste of New Haven’s Colin Caplan takes every opportunity to declare the primacy of New Haven pizza. According to Caplan, “pizza is art,” and one of his favorite pizza artists can be found at Ernie’s Pizzeria at 1279 Whalley Avenue.
Cameras from FoxCT’s Daytripper segment with Jim Altman were rolling recently as pizzaiolo and business owner Pat DeRiso — and dad Ernie, who founded the business in 1971 — demonstrated the fine ingredients (including gluten free pizza), techniques, and traditions that make Ernie’s pizza a regional favorite.
Taste of New Haven is enlisting professional chefs to conduct classes across the culinary spectrum in New Haven. Caplan said he started the classes because he believes business diversification is the key to his business’s long-range success.
“We are not leaving our eggs in one basket,” he said. “If we just did tours, we would be missing half of our potential business.”
His expanding activities now includes specialty events in corporate settings, schools, institutions, and family homes, in addition to his popular food tours and classes.
At this rate, Caplan — who is a published New Haven historian and author — stands to join the list of famous New Haven people he has written about.