Dino Santonicola's official title is "Master Pizzaiolo," a degree of sorts that he started when he got his first job at a pizza restaurant down the street from his house in the Spanish Quarter of Naples, Italy. He's certified as a Verace Pizzaiolo Napoletano, which literally translates to true Napoltano pizzamaker.
As he describes on his website, as a master pizzaiolo he's the "alchemist" who brings together the three most important elements of authentic Neapolitan pizza: pure ingredients from Italy, a thin crust that is simultaneously soft and crispy and, finally, the craftsmanship to work the magic of a giant wood-fired brick oven that reaches 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dino first came to Dallas as a consultant to help Jay Jerrier get things rolling at Il Cane Rosso in Deep Ellum, but then moved here for good in the Fall of 2011. We got to chat with him a bit recently for our burning questions series.
What's the worst thing you've ever burned? Pizzas! At my first job in Naples they would take money out of my check for all the pizzas I burned. At the end of the day, the owner would sit down and count how many I burned and take that out of my check.
[Remember: 900 degrees.]
I bet you learned quickly? Yes, I did.
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What made you want to move to America to make pizza? I was actually hired to come over here to start a restaurant in Seattle. Then I went to Maryland, then here with Jay.
What's been your worst kitchen nightmare? At my first job in Naples, I worked in a tiny kitchen and we rolled the dough down in a really small basement under the restaurant. So one day, they took me down there to roll the dough on this huge marble table and they showed me what to do then they left me down there and locked the door! I said, "What if I have to go to the bathroom?" and they said, "You'll work faster!" So, I was locked in this tiny room to roll the dough. That was a nightmare.
Why pizza? Growing up in Italy, my biggest fear was not having a job because jobs are so hard to get there. So, I knew I had to learn something when I was young. I wanted to get a job and hang on to it forever. I started when I was 13.
What's your greatest food shame? Like Taco Bell or something? I've never been to Taco Bell. I like the ice cream cone at McDonald's though. I don't know why, but I've always liked it. It's probably the only fast food I eat.