Bertrand Chemel may have never made a pizza in his life before taking the reins at Pizzeria Orso, the sister restaurant to his 2941 Restaurant. But that doesn't mean he doesn't take pizza seriously.
"I never worked at a pizza place, I never even flipped a pizza," said Chemel. "But that's why it was exciting to me; I like a challenge." He's so committed to his new role, in fact, that he's looking to not only train himself on how to make Neapolitan-style pizza, but to get the restaurant certified in the official technique of Naples later this year.
Chemel spent last week in California, where he graduated from a three-day Regular Pizzaiolo training course at Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), the entity that certifies pizza in North America.
"They teach you how to treat the dough the right way, the importance of rising." He wasn't so much looking to change what he's doing but to perfect his own technique. "There was definitely a learning curve," he said. Orso took the class with two other chefs. He also wanted to learn things like whether Pizzeria Orso would have the freedom to work with its own, unusual toppings (they do) and still get the certification.
While he was on the West Coast, the chef (who had never been to California before) also got the chance to check out what some great pizza makers are doing in Los Angeles, with visits to Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach, Osteria Mozza in LA, Spago Beverly Hills by Wolfgang Puck , Factory Kitchen (plus a stop at Jose Andres' Bazaar restaurant in Beverly Hills). "I think I'll have to do a couple weeks of diet," he said of his eating adventures.
Pizzeria Orso will have to go through several steps to get certified. An inspector has to make sure they have the right equipment (Chemel says they've purchase it all). The restaurant will have to make videos to demonstrate their technique, answer business questions and send files to Naples for inspection. He expects the entire process to take several months.