Chef of the Year!
Colleen CrossFeatures Business and Operations Profiles Trends canadian pizza summit chef of the year chef of the year competition
Giovanni Campisi, Red Door Cucina, wins top honours at Canadian Pizza Summit East!
Giovanni Campisi’s victory as Canadian Pizza magazine’s Chef of the Year was hard won and extra sweet.
Campisi, who is head chef at Red Door Cucina, in Dundas, Ont., won over the judges with his billowy Octopus Pinza that was a showstopper that had phone cameras flashing.
The Sicily-born pizzaiolo has entered the competition several times, placing third in 2019. It’s clear he always brings his A game.
Campisi is making the most of his win at Red Door Cucina, where he works as head chef. David Maciulis, his supervisor, has owned and operated the pizzeria for seven years in Dundas, a popular town on the outskirts of Hamilton, Ont.
He wants to keep the Summit momentum going.
“It’s very good for business,” Campisi says of his new title. The business fronts onto a pleasant residential back street. With the business’s active online marketing and ordering system, the slightly tucked-away physical location has not been a hindrance, he says. “People find us. And when people find out their chef has made the winning pizza, they make a point of visiting.”
Red Door Cucina is on Uber and DoorDash delivery platforms. Customers make a reservation to pick up their pizza. Besides the new favourite Octopus Pinza, Morti Funghi and Pollo are best sellers on the menu. Mela Formosi goes well with apple wine, Campisi suggests.
His winning plaque sits prominently at the front counter along with other medals for competing in Bucharest, Romania, where he earned two gold medals and one bronze representing the Canadian Culinary Federation Toronto Branch at the International Pizza Championship.
From Sicily to Ontario
Campisi is from Syracuse, a city on the Ionian coast of Sicily known for its ancient ruins and history. He moved to Bologna at age 20. He worked at a factory making tiles in the morning then at night as a server at a pizzeria from whom he received room and board.
It was at that time he met and married Katia and they welcomed son Sebastiano into the world.
Campisi also worked for a roofing company, but knowing it was dangerous and, now with a family to consider, he didn’t want to slip and injure himself. So, when his cousin asked him to buy a pizzeria with him in Castlefranco, a small town in the Emilia-Romagna region, he agreed. They called it Flash Export and it was a to-go-only pizzeria.
He started out doing the prep and delivery, but he improved his skills by paying attention to the pizza-making process.
“I learn with my eyes,” he says. “I notice everything.”
After a time, Campisi bought out his cousin’s share in the business. In all, Flash Export was in business for nearly a decade from 2001 to 2010, surviving a fire that saw it close for two weeks. That was a setback, he says, but the insurance covered it and he decided to renovate beyond the original shop. He put in about 10,000 euros of his own and did a lot of the work himself.
“I have lots of skills,” he says with a smile.
As for his pizza-making skills, the self-taught chef says, “For the first three or four months it was very hard. The pizzas were less than perfect and some customers took a pass.” Not to be discouraged, he worked, he improved his craft and he invited customers back to try the pizza again. “I told them, ‘I’m better now,’ ” he says. Many customers took him up on the invitation and agreed, becoming regulars.
He describes Red Door’s signature pizza style as thin-crust, crispy pizza.
After Campisi and Katia divorced in 2009, he met Sofia Butera who was visiting Italy. Together they returned to Niagara Falls, Ont., where they opened Il Sorriso (The Smile) Café and Pizzeria. “It was a great location near the falls, Skylon Tower and hotels,” Campisi says.
To fund the new venture, he sold his business, his car and invested in the new Niagara pizzeria. He believes he was the first to import a Malagutti rotating oven from Italy, bringing his oven from Italy. It cost close to 12,000 euros to bring it over. They were together for seven years and Campisi left Il Sorriso in June 2011.
He is proud of what they built. “People came from all over, including the U.S., to try our pizza.”
Fast-forward to March 2020. Campisi happened to be visiting Sicily when the pandemic hit. He ended up staying for two years with his parents. When the situation improved and travel restrictions loosened, he worked in top pizzerias in Bulgaria and Venice.
The pizza he took to the Pizza Summit in Toronto in October is in the Roman pinsa style. “I went to Rome to learn to make pinsa with my friend David. It was an intensive course mixing different flours. Rice flour is the best for pinsa because it doesn’t burn.”
When not developing recipes and stretching doughs, he likes to play tennis. He enjoys hitting the court with his landlord and the landlord’s 90-year-old father.
“He’s very good,” says the competitive Campisi. “He can beat me.”
Last summer Campisi worked with a local winery making pizzas for their customers using a portable oven.
He is looking forward to obtaining his Permanent Resident status with about a year to go in the process.
“I like to be in the same place. I used to have to work for two years some places,” he says explaining what’s better about the new open work permit system. “It gives me more choices.”
His son Sebastiano, now 23, has followed in his father’s footsteps to become a pizza maker in Bologna. Sebastiano completed the pastry program at college in Italy. He came to Canada, worked at a restaurant in Niagara Falls as a pastry chef and is now back working in Bologna. The plan is for father and son to go to Vegas Pizza Expo together in March.
If son is like father, he will work hard, be a quick study, learn by doing and find his own path to success.
Winning recipe: Octopus Pinza
By Giovanni Campisi, Red Door Cucina, Dundas, Ont.
We’re willing to bet you haven’t tasted anything quite like Giovanni Campisi’s winning Octopus Pinza, also known as “Il profumo del mare.” One of the secrets to a fresh-tasting pizza is Campisi’s method of boiling the carpaccio for 40 minutes and putting it in the freezer before the bake. This year’s Chef of the Year East recommends this delicious pizza be accompanied by a Sicilian white wine called Grillo. Enjoy!
- Rice flour recommended
- Prepare biga with hydration of 80%
- High hydration dough with 36 hours of leavening
- Octopus carpaccio, boiled for 40 minutes and put in freezer
- Micro rocket
- Buffalo burrata
- Cherry tomatoes
- Grated lemon peel with oil
- Lemon salt and garlic
- Marinade flavoured with octopus
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