Meet The World’s Best Pizza Chef, Diego Vitagliano, Who Will Sling His Famed Pies at Singapore’s La Bottega Enoteca

The Neapolitan chef, who operates four restaurants in Italy and Dubai, is best known for his progressive crusty pizzas, which diners can taste at an upcoming four-hands dinner series here.
by Alvin Lim
Diego Vitagliano

Photos: 10 Diego Vitagliano

The local pizza scene is abuzz with the soon-to-arrive four-hands dinner series led by Neapolitan chef Diego Vitagliano and local pizzaiolo Antonio Miscellaneo of La Bottega Enoteca from February 21 to 23. Chef Vitagliano’s namesake restaurant, 10 Diego Vitagliano in Naples, was awarded the world’s best pizzeria last year by Italy-based guide 50 Top Pizza.

Pizza fever was running so hot that all seatings for the three-night pop-up — held at Miscellaneo’s Joo Chiat restaurant, itself ranked at number 19 on the guide’s Asia Pacific listing — have all been snapped up.

While you’re welcome to scour the booking site for any last-minute cancellations, your next best bet would be to head to chef Vitagliano’s flagship in Bagnoli, Naples, or any of his other three restaurants in nearby Pozzuoli, Santa Lucia, and Doha.

Antonio Miscellaneo. (Photo: La Bottega Enoteca)

In the meantime, here’s what the chef has to say about his meteoric rise to pizza fame, his thoughts on his restaurant’s coveted podium spot (which it shares with I Masanielli by Francesco Martucci in Caserta, just outside of Naples), what signatures he plans to sling at his pop-up, and his honest opinion of Singapore’s favourite pizza flavour, the classic Hawaiian.

What started you off on your journey with pizza? As a native of Naples, you must’ve had no shortage of great slices growing up.

Being born and raised in Naples, it’s impossible not to deal with pizza. There, it’s a very important symbol of our identity. The world of pizzerias has always attracted me, but the decisive approach came thanks to the push from my father, who always told me that to avoid being jobless, I should become a pizza maker because it’s a profession that knows no crisis. And today, we can say that he was right through the ups and downs.

How did you develop that love for working as a delivery boy for a pizza joint?

I went through a long apprenticeship before achieving today’s milestones. I started in Naples at Carmnella pizzeria with Salvatore Esposito, Vincenzo’s father, when I was 16 — a real apprenticeship from pizza delivery to rotisserie. Then, I worked in various pizzerias until, in 2013, I began my personal research on doughs.

I’ve read that your father encouraged you on this journey. Was his influence pivotal to your development in your culinary career?

As I mentioned before, I started working as a pizza maker at my father’s behest: ‘It’s the only profession where you’ll always find work’, he always told me. Let’s say that the figure of the pizza maker today is not what my father had in mind; an important evolution has further ennobled this magnificent art, both in terms of the product and at the entrepreneurial level.

What sets your pies apart from others that you can get in Naples?

My pizza is what we today define as “contemporary Neapolitan” — with a well-developed crust that’s soft but with a bit of crunchiness. It has a long fermentation, high hydration, and very little salt. This is because, from the start, I have always been very attentive to the product’s healthiness, not just the taste.

Hence, one of the main characteristics of my pizza is its great digestibility due to significant and constant research and innovation in doughs. Also, as part of this, I like to propose other types of doughs, not just the Neapolitan one; in my pizzerias, crispy pizzas or rustichelle (similar to a Roman pizza) are very popular.

The menu is mainly based on tradition: marinara, margherita, montanara, and baked calzone pizzas are always present. Then, from these historic pizzas, revised ones are born, like margherinara or ragu.

The “memory” is also fundamental because I was fortunate to grow up with a grandmother who could cook very well; the recipes of the Neapolitan tradition are all present in the menu, revisited on pizza, like ragu, genovese, or sauteed meat. Then, all the products used respect seasonality and are of high quality, chosen among the best local producers and artisans.

Diego Vitagliano

Photo: 10 Diego Vitagliano

How did it feel when you were crowned the best pizzeria in Italy — and the world — by 50 Top Pizza?

For me, reaching first place in the 50 Top Pizza was a dream come true after many years of work and dedication. Certainly, I have no intention of stopping; my greatest wish is to continue to make pizza and talk about pizza, not only in Italy but worldwide, and always to promote one of the most beloved products made in Italy in the best possible way.

To do this, great virtuous synergy with the entire world pizza community is necessary to continue to grow the sector, and in this, the 50 Top has given a great hand. We all must work together and consider ourselves true ambassadors of Italian-ness.

What are the dishes — and, of course, pizza flavours — you have chosen to showcase in Singapore, and why?

With Antonio Miscellaneo, we devised a menu that could best express the concept of Italian-ness. Thus, the great protagonists of the dishes I bring to Singapore are ingredients made in Italy — especially those that are practically impossible to find here. Like the crusco pepper from Cilento, the Piennolo tomato, bear’s garlic, and the oregano from Matese.

There are five dishes of mine: one frittatina and four pizzas. Just to mention two: One is the “Pizza Magma”, a pizza with airy and crunchy dough topped with a warm and spicy cream of spicy pork sausage, homemade ‘nduja, and crunchy crusco pepper, basil, and salted ricotta.

The other is the “Marinara”, a great classic of the Neapolitan pizzeria to be transported from Singapore directly to Naples, topped with selected DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, meaning protected destination of origin) San Marzano tomato, bear’s garlic, basil, a San Marzano tomato confit, and a sprinkle of Matese oregano.

You’ve probably heard in Singapore that we’re crazy about pineapple on pizza. What do you feel about that, and what are your own favourite toppings?

Of course, I know! This trend has also arrived in Italy: Many pizzerias have ventured into creating pineapple pizza. Honestly, and I say this without controversy, I prefer the great Italian tradition of pizza, made with great local raw materials. That said, I will surely try a slice in Singapore.

Any chance of a 10 Diego Vitagliano in Singapore anytime soon?

Currently, I have four pizzerias: three in the Naples area (the latest arrival is in the historic centre, in the Santa Lucia district) and one in Doha (Qatar), which opened for the last World Cup. At the moment, Singapore is not in my immediate plans, but I am working on various projects and always evaluating many opportunities, so never say never.

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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