Pasqualino Oliveri is explaining what makes a good pizza when he stops and says, “I talk too much.” Talking is good, I assure with a laugh, talk away. This is an interview, after all. He continues in well-articulated English accented by the musicality of the Italian mother tongue. Eyes lit and sentences punctuated by smiles, Oliveri’s enthusiasm for a life in pizza is about as hidden as a giraffe on an ant farm.
Pasqualino Oliveri is explaining what makes a good pizza when he stops
and says, “I talk too much.” Talking is good, I assure with a laugh,
talk away. This is an interview, after all. He continues in
well-articulated English accented by the musicality of the Italian
mother tongue. Eyes lit and sentences punctuated by smiles, Oliveri’s
enthusiasm for a life in pizza is about as hidden as a giraffe on an
It’s been a banner year for Oliveri. He won Canadian Pizza magazine’s 2011 Chef of the Year competition sponsored by Saputo Foodservice with his La Regina recipe. This honour netted him a
trip to compete in Las Vegas with a guaranteed spot in the Traditional
category finals of the International Pizza Challenge (IPC) and cool
$1,000. He was signed up to compete in the Non-traditional division as
well, so with category bases covered he packed his bags, missed a
flight, prayed his dough would survive the delay and made it to the
city that never sleeps in time to get some rest. Game face on, his
brother Carmelo as chef’s assistant (and fellow competitor whom he, in
turn, assisted) at his side, he put forth his best slices for the
judges to weigh in on (Canada was present in the judging this year with
Canadian Pizza columnist Diana Coutu on the panel).
Oliveri captured the silver spot in the Traditional finals, adding
$2,000 to his winnings. Carmelo won the kit-and-caboodle: first place
in the Traditional division and the blind-box ingredient showdown that
gave him the world’s best pizza maker title and a total win of $15,000.
It was a true Oliveri sibling sweep at the IPC for these charming
Italian brothers with a long history of making great pizza together.
In 1989, the brothers opened their first pizzeria together in Verona,
Italy. Oliveri was just 19 and Carmelo was 20. They worked the business
together for 20 years. Over time he attained certificates in
bartending, sommelier, English, and food health and safety. In 2007, he
earned a Professional Pizza Making “Artisan” Certificate Scuola
Italiana Pizzaioli in Verona. A thriving business was built. Working
with family can be trying, but it was, and is, a true partnership for
“We work well together; it was easy,” says Oliveri. “I feel we are exactly 50/50 so together we are 100 per cent.”
In 2004 the brothers began competing, with Oliveri placing fourth at
the World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore Terme, Parma, Italy. In
2006 he placed first at the European Pizza Championships in Paris. He
scored high in further World Pizza Championships, European Pizza
Championships and a previous IPC in Las Vegas.
“You learn, you see other people and what they do and what they make,”
he says of the value of competing. “I think you never finish learning,
ever . . . . It’s good for the business and good for yourself.”
Eventually the conversation between brothers came about of taking their
pizza success to another corner of the world. Carmelo, who is now a
teacher at an Italian pizza-making school, has a wife and two children.
With family rooting Carmelo in Italy, Oliveri took the reins in taking
the pizza abroad.
First he visited New York for a week, but says he found it too big.
Then he visited Montreal and Toronto, which he also found to be on the
chaotic side. And he spent one week in Ottawa in February.
“It was cooooold!” he remarks, drawing out the wintry word in disbelief
as if he is right back to the day he stepped off the plane and into
sub-zero. “I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in this place.” He was
born in south Italy and had the pizza place in north Italy, both a far
cry from frosty February in Canada’s capital. Nonetheless, he liked the
small-town feel of the city and decided to take a step, or in the case
of Ottawa, a skate, towards his own restaurant overseas.
First Oliveri visited with an immigration lawyer who suggested he apply
for a work visa before opening a business. This would give him the
opportunity to make his food here, see what people like to eat and find
out if it’s possibly just too darn cold for him to stay. Oliveri says
he is grateful for the advice, for if he had opened right away it could
have been a mistake. He got his visa and stayed, working as the kitchen
manager and head chef at The Grand Pizzeria and Bar in Ottawa’s
bustling market district. After three years the climate, Canada and its
people became the right place for the pizzaiolo to stay. Oliveri
decided the time had come to go back to being his own boss.
“When you are owner of your business, it is not easy to go back and work for someone else,” he says.
In 2010, he parted ways with The Grand and began his own authentic
Italian food catering and consulting business serving Ottawa, Montreal
and Toronto, with pizza as the primary focus. He also registered his
pizzeria, La Regina, and developed the menu, with plans to open the
restaurant this year. But it will be more than just a place to dine; it
will also be a place to learn. Oliveri plans to open a pizza-making
school right alongside it.
“We don’t want to keep the secret,” he says of his desire to help other
pizza makers learn how to make a better pie. He says it’s important to
learn the fundamentals of the chemical processes of the dough and then
bring your own creativity and culture to it. With many ethnicities
running pizzerias in Canada, the options to infuse the food with
different flavours is vast. He says people decide for themselves and
for the business what kind of pizza they want to make, but dough
science is the backbone. To make more digestible dough, one must
understand the chemical process of yeast and the qualities of different
flours. This is what Oliveri will be striving to teach.
“We need to teach why you need to wait at least 24 hours before making
your pizza. I make the dough Saturday for the pizza I make today
[Tuesday of the IPC], he says. “That’s why we want to do this school –
to teach the people in the west why they loved the pizza they ate in
Napoli. You can eat Italian pizza anywhere in the world. It’s all in
how it’s made.”
Oliveri got to spend a few extra days in Vegas celebrating with Carmelo
before the brothers parted ways, undoubtedly looking forward to the
next visit. Oliveri has returned to the challenging task of opening the
pizzeria and school. He envisions a family-friendly place where he can
enjoy conversing with the customers. Talking is one of his favourite
parts of the job, even handling the complaints, which he counts on to
be able to improve.
“I love it; this is an art [pizza making]. I love this job. I love the
feeling that when I make something, and the people eat it, and they
like it and they keep coming back, when they say ‘wow!’ That’s what I
love about this job.”
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