GREENWICH, Conn. — With his white coat and squared thick-frame glasses, Bruno DiFabio is like a scientist at work in the kitchen of his Old Greenwich pizzeria.
The self-described “pizza geek” selects a flat circle of dough made of sea salt, flour, water and fresh beer yeast and slaps it against the cutting board. He slaps and stretches it repeatedly until it is evenly thinned, then pours on a coat of red sauce laced with garlic. He adds cheese and basil leaves with precision. Then he slides the pie into a wood-fired oven.
When the bottom of the pie is spotted like a leopard, DiFabio removes it from the 900 degree heat.
“This is a perfect Napoletana pizza,” he says. “People that are not familiar with the style think they’re getting a burnt pizza, but the charring brings a lot of its flavor.”
This is the pie that earned DiFabio membership in the Vera Pizza Napoletana, the major league of Napoletana pizza making. This exclusive association was started in the 1980s by chefs in Naples, Italy, who sought to distinguish those pizza makers around the world like DiFabio who adhere to the authentic Neapolitan tradition.
In 2012, some of those founding pizza makers crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit DiFabio on Sound View Avenue at his restaurant ReNapoli. It was there that they bestowed him with the honor. His is the 427th VPN membership and the only one in Connecticut.
Last weekend, DiFabio brought his pizza prowess to television, where he appeared as a judge on the Food Network’s popular competitive cooking series, “Chopped.”
DiFabio, who made the dough used by the show’s contestants, says he hopes the episode will bring him even more exposure. He says he’d love to appear on the show again, but only as a judge.
“I’m a competitive pizza maker and I’m used to performing at a very high level and I’m very comfortable in front of judges,” he says. “But I would never, and I mean never, compete on ‘Chopped.’ It’s a pressure cooker.”
DiFabio, a Greenwich High School graduate, is a prize-winning pizza maker of international acclaim. He says he has made one million pizzas, starting with his first New York-style pie, made in the kitchen of his grandfather’s Italian eatery in Manhattan when he was 10 years old.
DiFabio has since come a long way. He is the winner of six world pizza championships. He is a master of not only the New York and Napoletana styles of pizza making, but also Romana. And he owns 10 pizza shops across the country, including ReNapoli in Old Greenwich and Pinocchio Pizza in New Canaan and Wilton.
If you ask him, DiFabio will say the key to his success is his drive to constantly grow as a pizza maker. “Pizza,” he says, “can always be better.” And if you look at his calendar for 2014, you’ll see the rewards of that ambition.
This year DiFabio will open the first of five pizzerias in London, England. The restaurants, to be called American Pie, will be his first international locations.
DiFabio is also working to develop his own television show, a travel food series called, “Pizza Kings.”
The show follows DiFabio on worldwide expeditions to find the perfect ingredients. Then, with a partner, he cooks up different kinds of pizza.
“We forage and we come by the ingredients that we find in Burgundy, France, in Belgium, in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy,” DiFabio explains.
“And then we make pizza in very unconventional ways,” he says, such as in a steam pot aboard a ship in the Adriatic Sea, over a campfire in the Italian mountains and in a 600-year-old oven at a chateau in France that hasn’t been used for 400 years.
DiFabio won’t say much about the details of the project in this early phase, but he says the show will air in the near future on network television.