Colleen CrossFeatures Profiles
Canadian Pizza’s Chef of the Year has a love of the real traditional Napoletana pizza
Carlo Raillo is what you might call a pizza purist.
|Carlo Raillo says the essence of “real traditional” Napoletana pizza is in its slow baking.
His face quickly lights up when he talks about what it means to make Napoletana pizza.
The 33-year-old winner of Canadian Pizza magazine’s Chef of the Year contest, sponsored by Saputo and Moretti Forni, does not bother to contain his enthusiasm as he describes what Napoletana pizza means to him.
When making the “real, traditional Napoletana pizza,” he says, “you use the same flour and ingredients, but it’s how you make it that makes the difference.” The process is very slow, he emphasizes. “Napoletana is the real thing.”
Raillo is a master pizzaiolo and a head of pizza at The Parlour Italian Kitchen & Bar in Edmonton, Alta. He works for the Century Hospitality group, which runs several restaurants, including The Parlour.
As winner of the contest, Raillo earned a spot in the Non-Traditional finals of the International Pizza Challenge at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas in March. Here, he presented his breakfast pie, which features fior di latte, cherry tomatoes, bacon, ham, hash browns, eggs and green onions.
He credits his wife Kayla with dreaming up the idea for his winning breakfast pizza, playfully called “The Hangover Pizza,” in response to his great appetite for the morning meal.
Raillo, who was born in Naples, Italy, met Kayla, who was born in Red Deer, Alta., while she was vacationing in Italy, where Raillo lived as a young man. He followed up with a three-week visit to Canada in 2009, worked for Sorrentino’s in Edmonton for two years, went to Italy one summer, then came back to Edmonton, a city with an Italian population Raillo estimates at between 6,000 to 7,000. He started at The Parlour permanently in September 2009.
Raillo got his start in the pizza business working for his father, who, after working as chef for a hotel in Naples, moved the family to the Calabria region of southern Italy and opened a pizzeria.
In 1999, his parents opened a pizzeria in the town of Tortora and called it Ottimi Motivi, which he says loosely translates to “good motivation for you to come back and enjoy such a great pizza.”
|The Hangover Pizza
Raillo, who lived much of his early twenties in Tortora, studied for two months under Salvatore, a master pizzaiolo who worked for the family business from its beginnings. Working under Salvatore’s guidance was invaluable to his training, says Raillo, but much of his learning was done by watching as the teacher was not one to share his secrets.
The young chef explored different pizzerias to learn everything he could about different styles of pizza and methods of making pizza. He made a point of learning about organic, kamut and gluten-free pizza, and many other kinds, because he didn’t want to limit himself to the Napoletana style he knew so well.
He says, smiling, that while he learned from his father how to run the kitchen, he taught his father how to make pizza.
Raillo and Kayla live in Edmonton now, but Raillo goes back to Italy every summer, usually in July and August, to help with the family business and, in particular, to mentor up-and-comers.
His dad, mom, sister, cousin and aunt all work in the family pizzeria, and his brother-in-law is the manager.
This year he may go back for only five weeks, but those weeks will cover August as it is the busiest month for the pizzeria, due largely to the influx of tourists.
“August in Calabria is a busy, busy time,” he says. “I make 9,000 pizzas [more than the usual 3,000 he makes in a month].”
When in Italy, he says he bakes pizza from eight o’clock to midnight.
Raillo has learned a lot while working under Salvatore and travelling, and he is downright passionate about paying it forward by sharing his knowledge and experience with others. He teaches young people who have had a troubled past through a two-year community rehabilitation program for which he receives no salary. Raillo says it’s important to help get them back on their feet.
He also teaches students from around the world, most of whom approach him at the pizzeria. Raillo is especially proud of a student from Brazil named Pedro, who stayed in Tortora and opened his own restaurant. The two remain great friends.
His most satisfying moment comes when a student goes through the process of making dough 10 times only to discover no two dough balls are the same.
“They see you touch the dough and that it is not mathematical,” he says. When a student has this epiphany, Raillo knows he has taught them well.
In 2002, Raillo spent a month learning under Franco Matellicani of Association Pizzaioli Italiani. Matellicani taught him to make Italian pizza, although not specifically the Napoletana tradition.
He explains the difference between Italian and Napoletana: “Napoletana is very specific to Naples, but there are lots of other regions that produce different types of pizza, like Sicily, Columbia and Florence.”
Crusts are all different as are cooking methods, says Raillo. In the north, crusts are generally crisp and gas, electric and wood ovens are used. In the south, crusts are generally soft and wood ovens are favoured. In Rome, which he says falls somewhere between the two, a deep, square pizza is popular.
Gas ovens are so technologically advanced that customers can’t tell the difference between gas and wood oven pizza, says Raillo, but he can spot it.
|At the Manzo Food Sales and San Felice booth, Carlo made pizzas and chatted with visitors.
“The difference is in the smoky taste,” he says thoughtfully, adding that in a wood oven you should raise the pizza up for two to three seconds as a final step. Any distraction during those final seconds can make or break the smoky taste.
What does the future look like? The chef envisions being a consultant someday and helping others launch pizzerias by spending a week with them in their restaurants, telling them which ingredients they need to buy and teaching them other key elements of the cooking side of the business.
Whether back in Tortora or here in Edmonton, Raillo puts on a show for customers, who watch him work while they eat. He prefers the open-concept pizzeria because he feeds off the response of an audience: “It gives me energy!” he exclaims.
Raillo has energy left over for sports, with basketball and the NBA topping his list of pastimes he has not enough time to indulge. The animated young chef says he also enjoys soccer, volleyball and fishing. On the subject of golf, however, he smiles, covers his face and shakes his head in frustration. The game makes him nervous because it requires practice. “I am a perfectionist,” he says, and with no time to practise he hasn’t got good at the game.
Raillo should have lots of company on the court and field as he and his wife have two daughters: Haley, three years old, and Julia, three months old.
The proud father remembers going to his grandparents’ house during his childhood for three days of eating. Everything revolved around food, he says, and that food was simple and fresh with few ingredients.
He sums up his feelings about the beloved pie simply, with few words: “All life is pizza!”
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