Naples without the Jet Lag!
Pizza News - Australia
Written by Stephen
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Now you don't have to travel to Naples, to experience the taste of a real Neapolitan pizza, instead a short drive from Auckland's CBD to the countryside of Kumeu will reveal the award winning Dante's Pizzeria. This bustling pizzeria may be a little off the beaten track but is well worth taking the time to visit and when you do, you know you're about to eat some of the best pizza in the country.
Dante's owner and pizza chef Kevin Morris, specialises in the Neapolitan variety and takes the centuries old tradition of pizza making very seriously. His dedication to preserving and promoting authentic Italian pizza, along with his constant strive to take pizza to another level, has seen Dante's recognised and rewarded by becoming the first pizzeria in New Zealand to receive membership into the prestigious Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), making him one of only 268 select pizzerias worldwide to have achieved the strict standards set forth by the association.
In 1998 the Italian government formally recognised Neapolitan pizza as a traditional food worthy of preservation and granted it D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status, which specifies the legally permitted ingredients and methods of preparation necessary to produce this type of pizza. The right to cook and sell the tightly regulated form of the Neapolitan pizza requires not just a deep knowledge of the process but also the commitment to swap modern technology that would make the production easier and cheaper, for the time honoured way of manual hand-skill.
Kevin's dough is made true to the standards of Naples; premium ingredients like Italian 00 flour, yeast, water and sea salt are mixed in an Italian-made mixer. The dough is then hand-stretched (not rolled). Kevin avoids the attention-seeking, mid-air dough spinning of the New York-style pizza makers and instead works the dough onto the marble counter, pressing it thin before finishing it with a quick low flip. It is then topped with a liberal smear of sauce made from Italian plum tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella di bufalo and a freshly picked aromatic basil leaf or two is added. "Tomato and basil provide such a harmonious merger of flavour and colour that they must have been made for each other", and what better nuptial bed for them to celebrate their union than the pizza? Accordingly, a VPN pizza is about simplicity and toppings should be in keeping with the spirit of the great tradition and mustn't contravene the rules of good taste and gastronomy. Kevin adds "Your pizza is only ever as good as your crust and sauce, anything else is a topping and whilst there is no limit to the imagination, that doesn't necessarily make it a pizza".
At this stage, the pizza base is ready to be picked up by a large shovel and introduced to the oven. The pizza is tossed off with a single, sharp jerk which, by some unfathomable mystery, propels it safely and intact onto the oven floor where the heat from the 400°C oven causes the pizza to rise within a few seconds. A smaller shovel is then picked up and at this stage Kevin embarks on a series of apparently casual movements, while in reality, he is meticuously calibrating the distance between the fire, moving it closer, rotating and shifting it further away, until it is ready for removal from the oven after about one and a half minutes. The wood-fuelled oven, is in fact, an essential factor in the creation of a genuine Neapolitan pizza and really does distinquish the unmistakeable, unique aroma of the oven it is cooked in. The end result will yield a chewy, puffy, blistered, char-speckled crust that´s still tender.
Food means more to Kevin than just curbing an appetite. He believes that the true essence of pizza should stay in ones heart, not in their stomach. That is why he pours his heart and soul into something he has a passion for. Whereas in pizzerias all over the world, electric ovens are rapidly replacing wood ovens because they are easier and simpler to use, the pride and joy of Dante's is their hand-made, dome-shaped Italian oven. Kevin has an intimate relationship with his oven, which is something Tanya, his wife/pizza assistant has learnt not to get in the way of. Each day sees Kevin carefully select and chop wood for his oven. Even though the fire never completely goes out and the embers keep the temperature high, it still takes several hours each day to bring the heat back up. Tanya does however insist on the sensible use of a wood splitter after not one but two unfortunate accidents with an axe. However a true testament to Kevin's passion and commitment was when he learnt to carry on making pizzas one handed while the other was out of action, slung up in a sling. He may have been slower during those times but even then true to his beliefs he refused to use a rolling pin.
Kevin grew up in a culinary family, with his grandfather Dante owning a pizzeria in Italy. As a boy Kevin would visit and spend countless hours fixated on how the dough was magically formed. The Morris´s decided to set up Dante's after a trip back to Italy got them inspired. In 2007, after little more than 6 months trading, Dante's placed third in the 'Peroni Pizza Challenge' a national competition to find a representative for the World Pizza Games held in Las Vegas. Only a few months later, Dante's was one of three finalists in the New Zealand Retailer's Association 'Top Shop' award in both the highly competitive 'Specialist Food and Beverage' and 'Outstanding Customer Service' category.
The bottom line is, if you want to go to Italy but just can't get away right now for whatever reason, or you're a pizza lover and have never tried a Neapolitan pizza, you simply can't miss the opportunity to visit Dante's Pizzeria.
Tuesday 24 June 2008

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