The Pizza Quality Gap Between Naples and Los Angeles Is Getting Smaller

Carnevale pizza by third-generation pizzaiolo Attilio BachettiEXPAND
Carnevale pizza by third-generation pizzaiolo Attilio Bachetti
Natalie B. Compton

Third-generation master pizzaiolo Attilio Bachetti is scrolling through his Instagram showing me photos of his favorite pies. He describes each one in melodic Italian, then Sotto chef and owner Steve Samson translates to English. Samson's mother is from Bologna. "I’ve gone more times than I can count," he tells me. Across the table, Bachetti’s wife and son chime in occasionally to supply more pizza details. The Bachetti family is in Los Angeles from Naples to share the secrets of perfect Neapolitan pizzas with a few different restaurants. It's not their first rodeo; they've traveled to the States before (and to Taiwan) on the invitation of pizzerias to share their Neapolitan expertise. Their first stop on this trip was DeSano; now it’s Sotto’s turn to glean Bachetti’s pearls of wisdom. L.A. pizza enthusiasts had only a fleeting chance to see Bachetti at work at his brief DeSano and Sotto residencies, but he intends to leave a lasting impression on the city's pizza scene with his consultations. 

In 1938, Bachetti’s grandfather opened up Pizzeria Trattoria da Attilio in Napoli. Bachetti started making pizzas when he was just 5 years old, and his son, Mario, is already gearing up to take over the family business when he grows up. Needless to say, the family is serious about pizza. So what do they think of pizza in Los Angeles?

Sotto chef/owner Steve Samson and pizzaiolo Attilio BachettiEXPAND
Sotto chef/owner Steve Samson and pizzaiolo Attilio Bachetti
Natalie B. Compton

“He said he sees differences but he sees a desire for people in this country to have the type of pizza [Naples is] known for," Samson says, speaking for Bachetti. "It’s starting to shrink the gap between pizza you get in Naples and what you can get here.” Samson, like other pizza slingers who seek out consultation from master pizzaiolos such as Bachetti, is one of those people with a desire to bridge the pizza quality divide. Even though Sotto is considered an L.A. pizza destination, its owner doesn't consider himself an expert at the craft. "I was telling Attilio, I’m a chef, not a pizzaiolo. I’ve never really had an opportunity to work with a pizzaiolo," he says.

A big difference between Neapolitan pizzas and their American imitators is in the dough prep. Bachetti uses very little yeast and a lengthy, room-temperature fermentation. The Sotto team opts for a refrigerated fermentation. "For me, it's a great learning opportunity to see the real way to do things and not just the way we’ve figured out how to do things here," Samson says of the Bachetti residency. "They’re not always the right way, they work for us, but we’re always looking to see new ways and improve our pizza."

As far as toppings go, cheese has been Bachetti's most noted difference between Los Angeles and Naples. “The biggest difference is the mozzarella," Samson says. "When they have mozzarella, it never goes in the fridge. It’s made, it’s fresh, it’s always at room temperature, so once it goes into the refrigerator, it changes the texture and the flavor.” This isn't just an L.A. problem, however. "From what I’ve seen, even if you go to Milan you’re not going to get that," Samson says of the fresh mozz conundrum. 

Sotto's wood-burning oven was built on-site by Neapolitan craftsmen.EXPAND
Sotto's wood-burning oven was built on-site by Neapolitan craftsmen.
Natalie B. Compton

In the short time Samson and Bachetti worked together — the Bachetti family's L.A. trip lasted only 10 days — the pair visited local markets, executed staff trainings and shared valuable pizza-making information. “He’s seen a lot of things that are a little off, like the temperature or the dough, the temperature of the oven," Samson says. "Things that are close, but these are things he’s been doing his whole life. If you’re so used to something and seen it for so long, and you see something that’s off, it’s very apparent, whereas for other people it isn’t apparent.” Bachetti puts on his chef's coat and heads to the kitchen to make us one of his signature pies, the Carnevale. It's shaped like a star with eight doughy points filled with ricotta cheese. As he works quickly with grace, Bachetti is constantly offering Samson tips in Italian. At one point, when he slides the uncooked pizza into the oven, he notes that the space is too narrow for such a long pizza peel. 

The pizza comes out shapely and tastes as good as it looks even if it's not topped with super-fresh, unpasteurized mozzarella. Bachetti, also a sommelier, would pair his pizza with a Falanghina. Samson would go for a beer, although he, too, is open to a crisp white wine pairing. It seems the gap between Angeleno and Italian tastes may be smaller than we thought. 

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