"The name Verace means 'true, genuine, authentic'. When I opened Verace, it wasn't just about opening a pizzeria.” Verace Pizzeria owner Stefano Cirene’s clear passion for real pizza has paid off again – Verace won Australia's Best Pizza in the 2017 Campionato Mondiale della Pizza (Pizza World Championship) held last month in Parma, Italy. Cirene and his team of pizzaiolo announced the win last week when they returned to Australia from Italy, and are celebrating with a month-long festival at the Macquarie Park restaurant.
"Pizza is one of the most simple foods on Earth, yet it's only been in the last 10 years or so that Australians are starting to understand what real Neapolitan-style pizza is," says Cirene, whose pizzeria has won 16 first place titles across Australian, European and World Championships.
The latest accolade sees the pizzeria join the ranks of Melbourne’s Pizzaly, whose owner was crowned the nation’s top pizza chef in 2016 for his margherita.
In 2014, Brunswick’s Johnny Di Francesco of restaurant 400 Gradi showed the world that Australia is serious about making great pizzas, taking out the title of World Pizza Champion in Parma, Italy. The Italian competition has been impressed with Australia’s pizza-making abilities, saying that Italy’s “beloved tricolor pizza is colonising the home of rugby, meat and good wine”.
The latest win reflects two years of hard work for Cirene and his team.
"I'm very stubborn. When Verace opened two years ago, I wanted to be the best in the country. To achieve that, we just do not compromise on quality. We consider ourselves to be the Champagne of the sparkling wines. Our pizza is a premium product," he says.
Cirene says he and his team are very proud to be so heavily awarded on the world stage. "Every one of my pizza chefs has now won a trophy at a world championship. There were 995 categories and competitions and it was tough competing against so many entrants," he says.
Verace received its accreditation from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Napolitana Pizza Association) just six months after opening its doors. The pizzeria was - at the time - the 596th in the world to receive the nod from Naples, and Cirene says he is passionate about staying true to the principles of traditional Neapolitan pizza-making techniques.
"My team of pizzaioli are the ones who compete and I consider myself to be the coach of the team. They compete, and I hammer the theory and we practise a lot," says Cirene.
"The name Verace means 'true, genuine, authentic'. When I opened Verace, it wasn't just about opening a pizzeria. It was about having something that was educational. A lot of my customers were new to Neapolitan pizza but they now understand, appreciate and respect the product," he says.
To receive the AVPN trademark, the team at Verace Pizzeria make pizzas that adhere to its regulations, which range from burning the wood-fired oven at 400°C, to using 5 Stagioni 00 brand flour. Cirene is also reverential about resting the dough which he does for three days, rather than the AVPN stipulated minimum of eight hours.
"My dough proves for three days, not eight hours. It's much more time-consuming and costly to do it this way but the results are worth it. The dough has all the flavour profiles of the wheat and it is properly fermented so you don't feel sleepy after you've eaten it," says Cirene.
"Traditional artisan pizzas must use San Marzano tomatoes and fior de latte, which I import from Naples," he says.
Cirene says his family hails from the small village of Gioiosa Ionica, in Calabria, and he went to work at his cousin's pizzeria for a few years to perfect the art of making pizza. The restaurateur, who also runs Mezza Via Italian Cuisine in Denistone Park, says watching his nonna bake bread as a kid also shaped his preference for Napoli-style woodfired pizza.
Cirene organised the month-long Verace Pizza Festival to share his news with the local community and try to spread the word about real Neapolitan pizza. A launch event last night, which was attended by the NSW Minister for Finance, Victor Dominello, was also used to launch Verace's woodfired pizza burger, which completely flips any notion of authenticity or tradition on its head.
"There are a lot of people hooked on my pizzas and this pizza party is a chance to thank them for their support and to launch our new pizza burger and menu," says Cirene.
The festival, which will be held until Monday, July 31, will offer those in attendance the chance to win the grand prize of a holiday for two to Milan, Italy, as well as giving out giant buckets of Nutella as daily prizes.
There will be a free pizza-making class with the world-beating Verace Pizzeria pizzaioli on Sunday July 30 from 2pm to 4pm at Verace Pizzeria.
Images: Verace Macquarie Park
“Melbourne pizzaolo Johnny Di Francesco has been perfecting pizza his whole life in Australia and in Naples, and in 2014 he won the huge Best Pizza in the World competition in Parma, Italy against 600 competitors from 35 countries. The key is using the best ingredients, mastering the art of rolling the balls, stretching the dough, creating the cornichone or crust, using simple delicious toppings, having access to a wood-fired oven and getting the temperature just right – the optimum is 400°C (750°F).” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire
"There’s a world of difference between a good pizza dough and a perfect one."
With the arrival of cooler months comes cosy nights under the doona, the generosity of more clothing coverage and, of equal importance to The Life Holistic, the start of the sweet potato (otherwise known as kumara) season. This recipe combines the deliciously nutritious vegetable with a dish that no one needs convincing of… pizza! Yes – a gluten-free pizza with a vegetable-based base!