An Interview with Leo Spizzirri
It might be foolish to not start this interview by acknowledging that everyone’s lives have turned upside down. COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, traveled across the United States like a wildfire moving from coast to coast and thus leaving millions of pizza businesses struggling to keep their doors open. For this month’s PizzAmerica series, our team wanted to interview someone who knew the US pizza industry inside and out. Someone who consults entrepreneurs, and solves pizza business crises for a living.
Meet Leo Spizzirrri, although we are fairly certain that you may know his name, he is a world renowned pizza chef, bread maker, and restaurant consultant. Certified as a pizzaiolo by Tony Gemignani at the International School of Pizza, and graduate of the Italian institute Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli under headmaster Graziano Bertuzzo, Leo carries a passion for pizza-making like no other. He has seen the worst and best that the pizza industry has to offer, and shares his joy of pizza-making to all. We had the honor of asking him what his thoughts are on the future of restaurants “post-outbreak”, how restaurants can still find success during social distancing, and what recipe helped him through quarantine.
1. A lot of people in the news are saying that the restaurant industry will change forever after COVID-19. How do you think the food service industry will change?
The pandemic has brought a lot of awareness to how delicate our food supply chain is. While we always think about serving our customers in a clean and safe manner, new measures are going to need to be adopted to give our customers that same safe and secure piece of mind as in times past.
Operators will be forced to introduce broader and stricter sanitation practices for both front and back of the house. I feel that there will be a push to get better transparency.
2. How can you foresee the North American Pizza academy adapting to this pandemic? Online pizza classes, lending out your kitchen space to pizza businesses, new class sizes, etc.?
At NAPCA, our educational philosophy has always been to teach our classes with a reduced number of students to give them more one on one interaction with the instructor. This philosophy will remain the same even after we are allowed to reopen. Our typical class size is 6-8 students. We will continue to teach to these size groups and offer course subjects more frequently when they sell out to allow those on our waitlists to attend classes easily.
We have also begun to expand our infrastructure by revamping our website that will give us greater capabilities like offering online classes and special events, a larger online store with national shipping, and virtual experiences where our students can participate in activities at the academy from the comfort of their own home kitchens.
3. As a well-respected consultant to the food service industry, do you have any advice for restaurants trying to adapt during, or after the quarantine?
I can remember what it was like back in 2008 when the housing bubble burst and we were all faced with similar issues that we are today. There was a lot of uncertainty. I received so many calls from restaurants that were on life support at the time. The best advice that I can give is to go through your operation from top to bottom. Re-evaluate your priorities and where you are planning on spending your money.
There were so many restaurants that I worked with that had very large menus, this is where I focused a lot of attention. By making changes in our menus and offering fewer options, we can still give a great experience and make delicious food while controlling our food and labor costs at the same time.
Stick to what you’re good at and what you’re known for, this is what will be the driving force to making it through to the other side.
4. Share one important lesson you have learned during this experience.
I think one of the most wonderful things that has come from this terrible virus is the call to humanity to step up for the common good. We have rediscovered how connected all our lives are. We are responsible for each other. To me, it seems the more we distance ourselves from each other, the closer we have all become.
I feel that the lines of politics, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality have all faded somewhat and we are trying to become better humans and residents of mother earth.
5. What has been your favorite dish to make during quarantine? Any recipe suggestions?
At home, I have three little girls who seem to love getting away from their smartphones to gather in the kitchen to make chocolate chip cookies every day. For my wife and I, it's been a blessing as well because it gets everyone away from watching the news on the television.
We literally make chocolate chip cookies every day and have them after dinner. It reminds me of the way my grandmother would put a bowl of fruit on the table with some mixed nuts and we would sit and talk while drinking coffee after we were done eating.
I think we love the way the house smells of freshly baked cookies and its calming effect that it has on everyone. Here’s the recipe for our chocolate chip cookies. You can make the dough ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator then just scoop it onto a pan and bake anytime.
*Chocolate Chip recipe credited to Shauna Sever, from her book Midwest Made.
384g all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
225g European style butter, at room temp
225g dark brown sugar
200g granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
340g bittersweet chocolate chips (60%-70% cacao)
Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together brown and granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy
Beat in the egg and egg yolks one at a time.
On low speed, stir in the dry ingredients and chocolate chips.
On a large cookie sheet lined with parchment, portion the dough into balls using a 2-tablespoon scoop.
Wrap pan with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days ahead.
Bake 12 dough balls per cookie sheet at 350f for 13 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days
6. What else is next for you?
For the first time in a very long time, I have found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands. I have been devoting a lot of time recently to getting back to my love of baking bread and working with sourdough. I hope to offer this as a course at the school in the future!
7. Thank you, Leo! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Stay safe and wash your hands! This will all get better sooner than later if we all work together. I look forward to seeing everyone back in class soon!