You don’t want to mess with Giuseppe Mascoli’s oven. The Neapolitan pizza owner prides himself on his E9,000 (£7,085), handcrafted specimen. "I had it made by an artisan in Naples," he says. "Then put on an industrial trolley and shipped over on a container. It’s a very particular oven."
For the trained chef, who now co-owns London-based pizzeria Franco Manca, it’s his oven’s ability to reach 500?C that makes his organic Neapolitan pizzas so special. Blasting the pizzas for less than 90 seconds means they retain the moisture so essential in the pizza’s soft crust. "So you have to know how to use it," he says.
Franco Manca opened in March as what Mascoli calls "an experiment". It’s housed in London’s vibrant and bustling indoor Brixton market, employing around six staff.
Among the yams, pigs’ trotters and okra, his pizzeria has 54 covers across two shops. He commands a roaring trade in both eat-ins and take-aways despite being open only from noon to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.
Aficionados travel from far and wide for his ’cheap as chips’ pizzas, which retail from £3.90 to £5.60. They also love the authenticity and focus on provenance that Mascoli is at pains to achieve. For instance, he trained cheese-makers especially at an organic, artisanal farm in Somerset to make its buffalo mozzarella. The pizzeria’s single-estate flour - strong, type 0 or 00 - is imported from a miller in Italy. Mascoli himself admits that they "take no short cuts".
So what, so far, is the secret to his £6,000 weekly turnover and 55% profit margin? "Lots of people buy the product," he says, pointing to sales of 150 a day in the five hours the pizzeria is open, rising to 250 on Saturdays. "I have an exclusive product, which took years and years of research, so I’ve got to sell a lot of pizza."
Confidence in his product must also help: "I have no competition in the UK," he says. "Everybody else is completely wrong, from A to Z, from the flour to the fermentation, the type of yeast that they use, the type of oven..."
Mascoli says even the good pizzerias can err, which is especially critical if it’s with "the first fundamental" - the flour. "You cannot use industrial flours," he says. "You can get the consistency right, but you’ll never get the flavour right."
Mascoli acknowledges that his affable relationship with Brixton Market’s owners is also vital to his success. He describes the owners as ambitious and says they want to introduce a diversity of food products to its offer. "I have a very good deal with the market people, who give me very low rent because they want to revitalise the market," he says. "After wages, the second largest cost is rent. And you cannot save on the wages.
"I need to have very, very high turnover," he adds. "I can do very well on a low rent, but I couldn’t do the same in Chelsea, for example."
His wood-burning oven is also low on energy use, he says, which helps to keep costs down. "It consumes less and has very good heat retention," he says.
In the evening, he closes the oven doors and the flame dies. Yet in the morning, the oven is still slow-burning at 260?C, in which, once he
has removed the charcoal, he can bake bread. Does that mean that non-specialist outlets such as cafés or bakeries could benefit from such a powerhouse? Not this type, he says, which is for a very specialist product. "It takes lots of skill to use it and most people won’t know how to use it."
Mascoli believes the humidity it emits makes it ideal for only a handful of bread products, but says it’s ideally suited to Neapolitan pizza. "They would have to know how to homogenise the surface temperature or you have hot and cold spots, how to turn the pizza on its side..." he says.
What of the future? Having just launched, the entrepreneur is waiting to see how the venture does before any expansion. He also owns a private members’ club in London’s Soho, as well as being the proprietor of a cultural magazine. But his mighty oven promises to fuel his pizza business a little longer yet.
=== How to make Neapolitan pizza in... say... Newport (good luck!) ===
The Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza (Verace Pizza Napoletana Association) was founded in 1984 to increase the value of the pizzas produced by old Neapolitan methods, against the backdrop of what it perceived as a watering-down of the product, due to the spread of fast-food chains. In 2004, Italy’s authorities enshrined the rules in guidelines on how to make Neapolitan pizza. Then, on 14 February this year, the association succeeded in getting the European Union to publish the requisites for ’real Neapolitan pizza’ in the EU’s Official Gazette - meaning it should pass into law as an STG or Guaranteed Traditional Speciality when the six-month objection period expires this month. After that, pizzas in all European countries will have to follow the rules if they want to call products ’Neapolitan pizza’.
l Real Neapolitan pizza must be round - no more than 14" (35cm) in diameter, no thicker than 0.1" in the middle, with a crust about 0.8" thick
l The texture must be soft, elastic and easily foldable
l Only three types are allowed: Marinara, with garlic and oregano; Margherita, with basil and mozzarella cheese from the southern Apennines; and extra-Margherita, with fresh tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella from Campania
l Dough should be allowed to rise for at least six hours and rolled out manually
l Pizza must be cooked in a wood-fired oven that can reach the required temperature of 485?C.
=== 10 Steps to a ’Better for You’ Pizza ===
Thin-crust Neapolitan pizza is now being offered in some quarters as a ’healthy option’. Who’d have thought it? A simple tomato sauce, delicately flavoured with herbs and garlic, makes a low-fat topping along with roasted vegetables, meat or fish, writes Chris Dickinson, NPD director of pizza base supplier La Pizza. Much has been written about the benefits of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant abundant in red tomatoes, processed tomato products and other red fruits.
== 1 ==
Use a brown base for increased fibre
== 2 ==
Keep sugar content to a minimum by using sauces containing no more than 1%
== 3 ==
Keep oil and fat to a minimum; use sauces with little or none in the recipe
== 4 ==
When oil is used, make sure it is olive oil. For additional flavour, use extra virgin olive oil. If you don’t want the olive flavour, use ’extra light’ olive oil
== 5 ==
Choose a thin-crust pizza. For dough portions, use a 7oz dough ball for a 10" pizza, 10oz for a 12" pizza, 14oz for a 14" pizza and 18oz for a 16" pizza. Of course, these are just guidelines - it is possible to have a slightly thicker crust and still have a healthy pizza but, generally speaking, the thinner the better
== 6 ==
Use only the best tomato sauce for great flavour - you will use less!
== 7 ==
Use a 50:50 blend of no or low-fat mozzarella and regular mozzarella
== 8 ==
Don’t overdo the cheese. Use no more than 6oz for a 10" pizza, 8oz for a 12" pizza, 11oz for a 14" pizza and 14oz for a 16" pizza
== 9 ==
For meat toppings, use only lean meats such as lean ham, chicken and lean ground beef. Pepperoni and salami are favourites, so if you do use them, use thinly sliced and put on only a light or moderate amount
== 10 ==
For vegetarian toppings, include as much or as little of the typical non-starchy pizza vegetables as the customer requests; tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers all qualify.