An Interview with Vito Iacopelli
With the rise of social media and YouTube, everything you’ve wanted to know is only a click away. Have you dreamed about making your own pizza dough at home? How important is hydration in dough-making, or what is the difference between stone vs. steel baking? This month we had the pleasure of interviewing the internet’s favorite instructor, who has learned and baked alongside distinguished pizzaiolos, catered for Hollywood stars, and even inspired amateur chefs to start their own pizza businesses. Pizza is for everyone and with technology on his side, Vito Iacopelli makes sure this mission statement continues to ring true.
1. When and how did you get into the pizza making business?
Since I was born! I am a third generation pizzaiolo on both my mother’s side and father’s side. My grandfather on my father’s side opened up a pizza place in the 1960’s, and my grandfather from my mother’s side opened up three pizza places in Chicago in the 1950s. I believe it was pizza that brought my mother and father together, for sure.
2. Why pizza, opposed to other Italian culinary specialties? What is it that drives you?
When I was a teenager, I actually tried to change jobs. However, when I was 16 or 17, I knew how to make pizza and I liked to do it, so I decided to go to Naples and learn how to make the Neapolitan pizzas.
It’s become a lifestyle and passion for me! I say that because for a lot of years I made pizza for free. I didn’t do it for the money. I wanted to learn.
3. In your opinion, what is the trickiest stage of the pizza making process to get it just right?
It is three things: the outside temperature, hydration, and fermentation.
Simple, but it seems very complicated to get it right.
It is! Once you learn those three things you can make the perfect pizza, because one recipe of “a perfect pizza dough” doesn’t exist. It depends on where you are, how you want the pizza, and how hot it is outside.
Everyday my grandmother taught me to go outside and see how the ocean behaved. She taught me to observe the temperature and then make the dough! Every day the pizza was different because the weather was different.
I have been using the same recipe from my grandmother that is 100 years old and I still perform it the same way: when I go out to my pizza place, I see the weather! If it’s cold, if it’s raining - or depending on the ocean how the wind is, I adjust and make the dough. That is why you will see on my channel I have so many pizza doughs.
I try to explain to people when they ask me, “What is the perfect recipe?”
The perfect recipe doesn’t exist because we do it old school style! Back in the day, we didn’t have a fridge or temperature control and the water was different, you know?
What is the best weather or “day” for you to make a pizza?
I believe it is here in Los Angeles! It is always about the same temperature here, about 27 degrees celsius or 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the perfect weather for a perfect recipe.
4. Life—and business—have ups and downs. Can you share one peak moment and one low moment that stands out to you, looking back at your life and career in the world of pizza?
The best moment was when people started to recognize me through my YouTube channel. I started a YouTube channel that showed people how to make the best pizzas at home. So many people in Italy charged those who were interested for high amounts of money, and eventually these people turned away and did not learn how to make pizza. In response to that, I wanted to make the best YouTube “pizza channel” online, and it has been the best for me to see people make better pizzas than their local pizza place.
The worst part is owning a pizza place in Los Angeles. When you own a business, it’s really tough because you are concentrating on what you love to do, but at the same time, you can’t concentrate on what you really love: the pizza. In a business, you need to think about the customers, and all of the bills and how you will pay them. The worst part is owning a business because you cannot focus on what you love and making it the best.
5. You recently set a record as the “first chef to make a pizza under the Hollywood sign”! What gave you the idea to perform this feat? Where will you go next?
People don’t know Los Angeles for pizza. When I decided to go under the Hollywood sign and make real pizza, the message was, “Now you can say in Los Angeles, we have good pizza!”
Even as shown in my videos, people in Los Angeles make better pizzas now. When you go to these pizza places in Los Angeles, you can ask people how they learned and they’ll say, “I watched videos on YouTube”. For me, that is the best because I don’t care if people can make a better pizza than me. I think we all win if we can make a better product.
Where will I go next? I’m going to make a pizza on top of a yacht and I’m also working on making a pizza on top of the tallest building. I’m trying! I’ll see what I can do. I wanted to make pizza during flight, but the pilot said it was too dangerous!
At the end of the day, the goal of this channel is to make things a little bit funny, but also to make instructional videos. I’d say 80-85% of my videos are instructional.
6. You have made a name for yourself in the pizza industry through your YouTube channel and by teaching everyday people to craft homemade pizzas. However, you also own your own pizza restaurant. Do you particularly enjoy doing one activity over the other (teaching pizza-making vs. preparing at serving pizzas at your restaurant)?
I like to teach, I like to prepare, and I like to make the pizzas. All three!
7. Do you have any advice for pizzaiolos wanting to start their own restaurant like you have?
The first piece of advice I have is to not do it by yourself. If you do it yourself, you will get too stressed and then you cannot focus on your passion. You need a team to be able to make a better business. You may want to only take care of the product, but you also need to take care of the business as well.
I also want to mention that marketing is everything today. That’s another piece of advice. Marketing is everything. Unfortunately, if you are not on social media you do not exist!
8. You have taught pizza-making for celebrities such as Shay Mitchell and Mario Lopez. What is it like to teach pizza making and serve pizza to celebrities?
You know, you think it’s impossible [to serve celebrities] but when you have them in front of you like a normal person, it’s easy. It’s fun, actually. For me, I put everybody on the same level. I don’t care who’s what and they probably like me because of that.
9. What's next for you?
I’ll be focusing on growing my YouTube channel to one million subscribers, eventually two million subscribers, and just having the best pizza!