Row breaks out as owner of expensive eateries featuring luxury toppings derides ordinary pizza as 'a brick beneath a pond of tomato sauce'
It is one of the most iconic and affordable offerings of Italian cuisine but the country’s traditional pizza-makers are cheesed off over a new generation of upstart, bespoke pizzas which cost up to 99 euros.
On one side of the debate are the celebrated "pizzaioli" pizza-makers of Naples, the home of the dish, whose cuisine was awarded World Heritage recognition by Unesco in 2017.
Despite the global energy crisis and soaring cost of living, they are still able to offer a humble pizza margherita for just six or seven euros and insist that pizza should remain democratic and affordable to all.
On the other side is a new range of high-end restaurants which are coming up with bespoke pizzas featuring expensive ingredients such as black truffles, beluga caviar and pata negra cured ham from Spain.
Flavio Briatore, a flamboyant businessman who once dated the supermodel Naomi Campbell, has opened a chain of restaurants called Crazy Pizza where a pizza featuring pata negra costs a hefty 65 euros. A pizza adorned with truffles will set the customer back 49 euros.
Mr Briatore, a former Formula One boss whose chain has branches in Rome, London, Monte Carlo and Riyadh, is dismissive of pizzas that cost just a few euros. “What are they putting on pizzas like that? How can they sell them for that price? You have to sell 50,000 pizzas a day, otherwise it’s not viable.”
He likened cheap pizzas to “a brick beneath a pond of tomato sauce and that’s it.”
“We put the finest ingredients available on our pizzas. Pata negra prosciutto costs 300 euros a kilo, so we sell the pizza for 65 euros,” he said in a video posted to his Instagram account.
Ordinary pizza makers were just jealous of his international success, he said, calling himself “a genius”.
The luxury pizzas offered in his restaurants represented an “upgrade” of the original concept, which has sustained Italians for generations.
Described as "a sleek and playful new dining concept", customers also get the chance to see how the pizza dough is made as the chef walks around the restaurant and spins it above diners’ heads, often to clapping and cheering.
A restaurant in Jesolo near Venice, Da Robert, has gone one step further, offering a gourmet concoction of ingredients called the Mimi La Regina d’Oro 24K, which includes gold leaf and sells for 99 euros.
“Gold is the only metal that can is edible and has always been a symbol of power. Eating it makes you feel strong, powerful. Clients experience a moment of glory,” said Robert Nedea, the owner of the restaurant. “When we serve it we play the track ‘We Are the Champions’. If customers give their permission, we let the whole restaurant know that they ordered it.”
Gino Sorbillo, one of Italy’s best known pizza-makers who runs a historic pizzeria in the heart of Naples, has little time for such extravagance. He went head to head with Mr Briatore in a debate on an Italian television chat show, Porta a Porta, earlier this summer.
His basic pizzas cost five euros and “represent the story and the traditions of Naples. It’s a pizza for everybody. We’re not interested in making pizzas that cost 65 or 100 euros. We use Italian ingredients, products that come from our land. Others are free to do what they want of course.”
It is not just the ingredients that justify the high prices commanded by the new breed of pizza but the surroundings in which they are served – the Rome branch of Crazy Pizza is in Via Veneto, where Hollywood stars were once chased by paparazzi during the capital’s post-war dolce vita era.
Laura Mantovano, the editorial director of Gambero Rosso, a famous Italian restaurant guide, told Corriere della Sera newspaper: “Quality has a price, especially if you take into account the location where the pizza is being served. Sorbillo makes a huge number of pizzas so he can get away with a more affordable price.”
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