Historically speaking, women have been making pizzas and flatbreads since Roman times. While we don’t necessarily think of a woman when the masculine word pizzaiolo comes to mind, some women have left their mark on the industry, and many emerging stars are gaining attention as well. Let’s not forget that if pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito’s wife had not added the mozzarella and basil to his tomato-topped pie when honoring Queen Margherita of Savoia in 1889, the Pizza Margherita would not even exist!
There is still a very disproportionate number of women to men who are trained in pizza-making, which is believed to be five women for every fifty men. Now some of these women banded together and birthed Women in Pizza, a movement that empowers women in the pizza industry to share their stories, display their talents, inspire innovations, and connect with one another and the world.
The upside to this dramatic difference in numbers is that successful pizzaiole are able to use the additional attention that they sometimes receive in a male-dominated industry to raise awareness and funds for important social issues. And that is exactly how we met Pizza University Brand Ambassador Amy Riolo – while she was acting as the MC at a fundraiser at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC. Later, we learned that Amy also created benefits for Les Dames d’Escoffier ‘s scholarship program as well as many others.
In honor of International Women’s Day – a widely celebrated holiday in Italy – falling on March 8th, we asked Chef Amy a few questions about her journey into the world of pizza, and this is what she had to say:
- What does pizza mean to you?
Pizza, when done with care, is edible love. Professionally speaking, making pizza has always been one of the most rewarding recipes for me. When I take it out of the oven and set it down, and the aroma first hits the air – it brightens my day. After taking the first bite, I am always overcome by an immense sense of satisfaction, it is one of the things which I make, along with bread, that affirms my entire existence. At that moment, I know, for certain, that even if that is the only thing I do right, I will be able to make myself and the others that I share my creation with, happy.
- When did you first start making pizza?
Like many Italians and Italian-Americans, I used to make it with my grandmother. We did not know the techniques and standards that professional pizzaioli use today. For us, as kids growing up, if there was a hot oven and dough on a Saturday night, we knew we were in for a delicious treat – and I think that is still the allure of fresh, homemade pizza today – it turns any old time into a party.
3. What is your professional background?
I graduated from Cornell University and have been a professional chef and cookbook author since 2007. My work combines history, anthropology, and nutrition with cooking, and it has taken me all over Italy, the Mediterranean region, and the Middle East. I have written 8 cookbooks, some with the American Diabetes Association – and each contain a variation of pizza as well as flatbreads and home-made baked goods. I have also been teaching pizza in hands-on cooking classes, demonstrations, and tv segments for years. During the culinary tours I lead to Italy, Greece, and Morocco, historic bakeries and pizza-makers are always an important part of the itinerary.
4. How did working with the Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center change your view of pizza?
First of all and most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to learn about the many different styles of pizza from many different masters. Each maestro has its own signature style which our classes do a great job of interpreting.
As Albert Einstein said, ‘The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.’ That quote sums up my sentiments about the world of pizza perfectly, and while this can be intimidating for a lot of chefs, it is actually really exciting to me. It makes me want to continue research, practicing, asking questions and improving. The amount of innovations going on in this industry right now is unprecedented – everything from new gluten-free doughs to new classifications of pizza styles – oven technology-and different pizza culture is constantly being reinterpreted. It is a great privilege to be able to learn.
5. We’ve heard you say that “making pizza is a metaphor for life” – can you elaborate?
Yes, I remember when I was taking Maestro Pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia’s master class on “The Culture of Neapolitan Pizza Cooked in a Wood-Oven” in March 2019. When I was learning to put the pizza’s into the wood-burning oven, I would always hesitate a little bit. He noticed this and told me “Amy devi essere decisa nella vita!” which means “you have to be decisive in life!” It is the funniest thing, but now whenever I find myself hesitating about something, I remember the Maestro’s voice and try to make a decision as soon as possible! Working with pizza and dough teaches you practical skills, but also patience, speed, and a sense of total presence that is not needed in all professions.
6. What do you hope to accomplish in the world of pizza?
It is an honor for me to work with and for the Pizza University because I enjoy passing down the knowledge of our Italian culture. It is very important for me to let the world know that authentic pizza made with quality ingredients is actually good for you…and that making it is one of the greatest pleasures in life. No matter where I am or what is going on in my life, the dough is my grounding force, and baking is my happy place. If I am happy, making dough will make me happier, and when I am sad, it will lift my spirits in no time. Making pizza and dough, in general, enables us to dispel happiness, both to ourselves and others, whenever we choose. If I am successful in empowering others to love this craft as much as I do, I think it is a very good thing.