Tomoko Inoue puts down a ball of dough and gives her hands a rest.
She picks up a peel, the shovel-looking tool used to reach into ovens more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and moves burning wood from one side of the fire to the other.
“The fire in (wood-burning) pizza ovens only burns on one side, but in the mornings I heat the oven with fire on both sides to get it going,” Inoue says.
The pizzaiola is leading a team in preparation for a big day at Pizzeria Prima Strada’s Bridge Street location. They start by preparing 430 dough balls, 150 for the restaurant and 280 for the mobile oven, which, that day, was headed to Royal Athletic Park for Rifflandia.
Inoue recently competed at the World Neapolitan Pizza Championships in Italy with Team Japan, her native country. Her team was disappointed with its results, but that’s not stopping Inoue from the daily pursuit of the perfect pizza at Victoria’s only Neapolitan certified pizzeria.
“When we started we were never going to get Neapolitan certified, it’s such a rigorous process,” says Cristen DeCarolis Dallas, standing in the light of an open garage bay inside the Bridge Street location.
Last month, Cristen and her husband/business partner Geoffrey Dallas celebrated the fifth anniversary of Prima Strada on Cook Street and they’re still looking forward, way forward.
Before the couple started, they knew they wanted to have Neapolitan-style pizza – and experimented on recipes with a wood fired oven in their garage – but were happy to follow the guidelines and forgo certification.
They put an ad on Craigslist for a pizzaiolo and only one person replied.
That person is Inoue, who had worked as a pizzaiola in Japan for six years.
With Inoue on board they found their dedication to flour, flavour, texture and presentation followed the Neapolitan style so closely, they decided to apply for the certification three years ago.
“Each restaurant has to be certified and it’s an annual process. They visited, approve the site and now we send in video, photos and details each year to retain our authentication,” Cristen says.
“Cook Street is the model,” Geoffrey adds. “People are drawn to (Cook Street’s) oven with its mosaic-tiled facade and intimate space.
“This location is unique, we won’t be re-creating anything like this. But we do have plans to be a multi-store business, we have been from the start.”
Geoffrey wouldn’t say where they’re going next but plans are in the works.
By Travis Paterson