The Italian pizza maker who conquered Miami brings to Madrid the best pizza in the world
Renato Viola fell in love with pizza when he was only four years old. His mother would get up between three and four in the morning to prepare lasagna, ravioli, tortellini … What she would touch. And little Viola would get up with her just to see how she kneaded and stretched the dough. Then he had a revelation.
“One of these mornings he prepared pizza, and I was fascinated, so the next day I asked him to please make pizza again, without stopping to cry, and he had to do it again,” explains the pizza maker at Directo al Paladar. “And it was like that for a week. Every night he got up with me and had to make pizza. I fell in love with pizza. ”
Today Viola, who has 35 springs, is one of the most renowned pizzaiolos in the world and is visiting Madrid to open the first of its restaurants in Europe. And it is that, although Viola worked from the 11 years in all type of pizzerias of its native Agropoli (an important coastal city of the Amalfitana coast), getting to have its own school of pizza, it was not until the 30 that opened its own restaurant. And he did it in Miami.
Why in Miami? “Why not?” Answers Viola. “My wife loves the sun and the beach. Honestly, in recent years I’ve only been three times on the beach, but at least it’s there and the weather is great, people have a very open mind and there is good food. ”
So Viola decided to go to the Americas. He consulted with a lawyer, showed him his curriculum and he encouraged him to ask for the so-called O-1 visa , a permit granted to “people with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, education, business or athletics”.
Viola had won the prize for the best pizza in the world in the Monte Carlo international championship and, in addition, she got the first position of the national championship of acrobatics with pizzas, to later be part of the Italian team of this strange sport, with which she toured everyone to do exhibitions.
All these achievements impressed the US immigration service, which only eight months after sending the application granted the precious visa. “I started working with this visa and I was not aware of what it was until I started talking to some people who told me it was really hard to get,” he explains.
The pizzas that succeed in Miami
It was his wife who suggested Viola use the visa as a claim for her pizzeria, which began with the name of O1 Visa. This first restaurant was located in a tiny room in an office building, with capacity for only 18 people. But, although he did not even have a sign that he gave to the street, he became immensely popular in Miami.
“We made half of 200 services and 400 pizzas every day,” explains Viola. “If you went down the street you could not see the pizzeria, we had a person on the street and if someone asked for the restaurant they would open the door”.
It was after this success that a small credit card company suggested that he look for a new name for his restaurant. “We could not fight with Visa, so we changed it to Mister O1. ” With that name, Viola has opened two new restaurants in Miami, in the neighbourhoods of Brickel and Wynwood, a franchise in Naples (Florida), another in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and now opens in Madrid, with the help of Grupo La Misión.
“It’s my return home,” says the pizza maker, who believes that the city already has a good level in terms of Neapolitan style pizzerias, but not so thin and crunchy, which are the ones he practices.
An extravagant letter
Although Viola is considered a traditionally trained pizzaiolo, she says she has an open mind, and she throws herself into one of the eternal controversies: “I have pineapples with pineapple on the menu, because people love it in Florida, why not do what?”
In the menu, we also find their pizzas in the shape of a star, another invention that most orthodox pizza lovers surely consider an aberration. But after trying them we can assure that they are of death.
His most famous pizza, with which he won the international Monte Carlo competition, is the Star Lucca, composed of Calabrian pepperoni, mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil and ricotta cheese at the tips.
It was spectacular, but there are also other more risky options like Star Carlos – with mozzarella, chorizo, fresh tomatoes, arugula, avocado, parmesan cheese and jalapeño sauce, as well as ricotta at the tips – or La Claudio – with salsa tomato, mozzarella, stracciatella cheese and white truffle oil.
Other options are even more extravagant. This is the case of the Pizza Paolo pizza, one of the strangest pizzas I’ve ever tasted. I never would have thought that I could be so good after reading the ingredients: tomato sauce, mozzarella, gorgonzola cheese, honey, ground coffee and spicy salami.
“A lot of people when they see in the letter that they have coffee, they throw themselves back, but when they try it … There are people who drive for an hour just to come and eat this pizza,” says Viola.
Pizzas for all tastes
In the letter from Mister O-1, we find these author pizzas, but also traditional pizzas, at very different prices: from the 7.90 that a Margarita costs at 18.99, for example, the Star Carlo pizza.
All pizzas have, however, several things in common. Viola is obsessed with consistency: she wants the pizzas to be the same in all of her stores. Therefore, it uses its own flour, which they make according to their recipe in Italy; it has a software that, installed in the kneading machines, follows its criteria to always obtain the same mixture, which is allowed to ferment between 72 and 96 hours; and, finally, it uses an Italian electric oven, configured so that all the pizzas come out to your liking.
“I grew up with the wood-burning ovens, but when we opened the first restaurant we already had the idea of expanding, and it’s much more difficult to expand with wood ovens,” explains Viola. “Honestly, it’s very hard to get regularity with a wood oven. Some pizzas are perfect, but not all, because the temperature is always different. ”
For the rest, the only secret, he explains, is to use quality ingredients. Although the vegetables you will use in Madrid are Spanish, both the tomato sauce, the cheeses and most of the sausages -speck, burrata, Parma ham …-, are Italian.
We said goodbye to Viola on the verge of collapse – she wanted us to try seven different pizzas for three people -, recommending some restaurants to get to know Madrid’s gastronomy and wishing her the best in her adventure. I do not know if we will see him again, but in his pizzeria, which opens to the general public next week, we repeat for sure.
What to order: all the pizzas we tried were exceptional, but it’s worth trying the pizzas with a star shape and the Coffee Paolo, the most peculiar of all.