One of the greatest joys of being a writer is meeting new people who like sharing their stories with my readers. Especially, when I meet an entrepreneur who has a passion for doing what he or she loves, and has made a life and gives what one can like words of inspiration.
Several weeks ago, I interviewed Chef Giovanni Vittorio Tagliafierro of Tramonti Pizza located at 130 Saint Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10009. The restaurant is in a quiet neighborhood in Lower Manhattan with a mixture of trendy streets and sidewalks of charming cafes and bakeries.
There is a historical and humble presence when one enters Tramonti Pizza with its warm-hearted, welcoming décor and family pictorials on the walls. The restaurant is not only known for its sumptuous food but the atmosphere of home. Chef Giovanni has abundant energy as he moves throughout his establishment with a cheerful and caring way.
Right before we sat down to talk a regular customer came into the Italian restaurant to pick-up his order. And while he was waiting, I asked the gentleman, “What do you like about Tramonti?”
“It’s delicious. It’s good. It’s our favorite place in the neighborhood for my wife and me. We come at least twice a week.”
“Oh great,” I said. “I am here to interview Chef Giovanni.”
“Use my name.” He said, “I am Matt, and we love Tramonti.”
Chef Giovanni laughed, and so our interview began with light music in the background, a wood-burning oven, and his best mate Luca, at the front desk while customers flowed in between.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT WOOD-FIRED OVENS?
Tramonti is a valley between the mountains along the Amalfi coast, and “Tra” in Italian means, “in between,” “monti” in Italian means, “mountains.” Growing up in Tramonti, my family had three to five wood fire ovens because they were making everything there, not only just the bread. It was the cooking; the heat of the house, the stove is like the fireplace. So the real business was in Southern Italy, my family had the Pizzeria in Tramonti from about 1885 over 100 years ago. My great-great-grandfather Vittorio opened a small cantina. Cantina is the location where you sell the wine. He had a sub wood fire and made pizzas for the customers. Tramonti is known as the land of the pizza maker. Of the 4,000 residents that live in Tramonti, there are over 2000 pizzeria restaurants spread out all across Northern Italy and in a couple of cities in Europe. We opened our family pizzeria in October 1964. My mother is the boss with my two brothers, and the restaurant seats more than 200 people.
WHAT AGE DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?
Last summer in July was the 50th anniversary of my first pizza. It was July 22, 1968. I was in the kitchen, and my grandfather Giovanni who had been in WWI, asked me, ‘can you make pizza for nonno?’ Grandfather in Italian is nonno, and I said, ‘no, I can’t, I don’t know how to make pizza.’ He said, ‘you are six years old…come on. How you don’t know to make pizza yet?’ ‘I said, ‘no not my fault nonno,’ So my grandfather took my hand and said ‘today, you gonna learn from me and you going to make pizza for nonno.’ I was six years and two months when I made my first pizza. My nonno said it was the best pizza he ever had in his life. But I’m not sure. (We both laugh).
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS BEING HERE IN EAST VILLAGE?
I didn’t know about East Village. I found this by chance because the place was available and it already had a wood fire oven. I had seen many people walking here, young people, it was not expensive for me, and I say ‘Why not opened an Embassy of Tramonti’. In New York, we are the Embassy of Tramonti. Many people come here from Tramonti. A couple of days ago, I had a family from Asbury Park, New Jersey, that is considered the little Tramonti in America; they saw this place on the internet, and they decided to come. They asked me to help them do some research to find their relatives in Tramonti and using Facebook, we found their family.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PIZZA OF THE AMALFI COAST AND TRAMONTI?
What we try to do here is not only to bring the Amalfi style of food but the Tramonti food, because it is all about the food. No town in the Amalfi Coast can compare with Tramonti. Tramonti is the town of the food, the village of the pizza. Everything started there. The products come from Tramonti. Tramonti is the culinary capital of the Amalfi Coast.
IS PREPARING A DISH LIKE STARTING A BUSINESS?
The food is more passion than business—much more because if you see my products, I import them straight from Tramonti, and they are much more expensive. If it were only business, it would be different. I am going to find products here, that is cheap. I try to import products from Tramonti like the mozzarella and the sauce. I need the quality, and without that, I can call it anything. That’s why I say we are an Embassy; I am always in contact with Tramonti.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO BECOME A CHEF?
You need patience and passion, because if they think: I am going to be a chef, and make lots of money, eat very well, cook for myself, family and customers, but if you don’t have the passion for the food, it can be just a job, and you will be like any other chef. Passion is love. Passion is when you see your customer, and you see how happy they are on their faces; how happy they are after they have tried your dishes. That makes me entirely happy—absolutely, delighted.
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO YOUR DESSERT “CHOCOLATE EGGPLANT”?
It’s popular because nobody does it. In New York, people are looking for something new. It is something entirely new. In the mind of people, a dessert with eggplant is unusual. I always tell people when they ask for the most traditional dessert, I say to them, we have one. It’s not easy. It’s a long process. We are talking about three or four centuries of the recipe for our Chocolate Eggplant.
FINALLY, TRAMONTI PIZZERIA IS A ROMANTIC HIDEAWAY IN THE EAST VILLAGE.
Thank you. My idea was to cook and serve the people. Talk to the people. We like people to enjoy our restaurant, and we smile at their joy.
My pizza was sublime, and my dessert was delicious, and all the while we talked, as customers entered, they seemed comfortable and happy. Tramonti Pizza is merely a family affair.
Happy Valentine’s Day!