Bringing a taste of Napoli to North Burnaby
Alex Tung has been a chef at French restaurants in New York and fine dining establishments in London, Toronto and Vancouver. But there's nothing he enjoys eating more than a slice of perfect pizza pie.
So when an opportunity presented itself to become the executive chef and managing partner of the new Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria in North Burnaby, he was in full-paddle.
But Tung wasn't interested in creating thick, gooey, cheesy pies piled high with all manner of toppings like pineapple, pulled pork, tuna or even sauerkraut. He had something more authentic in mind, thin, sweet Napoletana pizza the way it's made in its birthplace, Naples, Italy.
He traveled to Los Angeles to study the science of Napoletana pizza from master pizzaiolas. He learned about Caputo flour, the finely-ground, low-gluten flour that is milled just outside Naples and caramelizes at high heat to create a sweet, chewy crust.
He learned about San Morzano tomatoes that break down into a thick, sweet sauce when cooked, and the importance of using high-quality olive oil and only the freshest mozzarella cheese.
"You're only as good as your ingredients," says Tung, who built hundreds of pizza while learning the craft. "You have to showcase the best ingredients in the best way."
That extends to the toppings as well, herbs cut every morning from planters in front of the restaurant, locally-sourced and ethically raised meats for the salamis and pancettas.
When all the ingredients are brought together, the pizza is placed into a red-hot wood-fired brick oven that is the centerpiece of Cotto's open kitchen, visible to everyone inside and outside the restaurant. It's ready 90 seconds later, the crust lightly charred to give it a smokey sweet-salty flavour.
"The oven is the star of the show," says Tung, who fuels it with wood from a lot in South Burnaby. "People can see me making the pizza, they can see the hearth burning."
Tung's attention to detail extends to the rest of the menu as well. Italian staples like meatballs and calamari are given a light, simple touch. He personally constructed the 52-strong wine list, learning the story of each winery.
And, he says, he's not intimidated by Cotto's location in North Burnaby, an area of the city rich with Italian heritage. In fact he's in the process of getting certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the organization that promotes and safeguards the culture of authentic Napoletana pizza around the world.
"Respecting tradition is a priority for me," says Tung.
Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria is located at 6011 Hastings St. For more information go to www.cotto.ca.