Francesco Martucci, the planet’s best pizza chef: ‘We have to align ourselves with the world’

The ‘pizzaiolo,’ who runs the number one-rated pizzeria in the world in Naples, describes his creations as ‘revolutionary’ but adds a pizza can contain anything a chef decides

Francesco Martucci (left) with Sartoria Panatieri chefs Rafa Panatieri and Jorge Sastre.
Francesco Martucci (left) with Sartoria Panatieri chefs Rafa Panatieri and Jorge Sastre.

Wearing a leather jacket and his hands dotted with tattoos, among which the message “have hope” stands out, Francesco Martucci, considered the best pizza chef in the world by the 50 Top Pizza World 2022 ranking, signed each of the menus handed out at a special dinner served at the Sartoria Panatieri pizzeria in Barcelona this week, so that diners could take home a souvenir. A few minutes later he reappeared in the kitchen in an apron and white T-shirt designed for the occasion and worn by all of the restaurant’s staff, ready to put his hands in the dough and round off four of his pizza recipes, the main dish of the night. As if he were a rock star, the diners who were lucky enough to get a place at the banquet table – the reservations for a €60 set menu sold out in 30 minutes – all approached the pizzaiolo to watch him at work. The rest of the chefs and waiters did not take their eyes off the show either. Three hours later, Martucci was acclaimed with applause, embraces and photos.

This could be the synopsis for the first installment of the Sartoria Panatieri Sessions – the pizzeria will host one a month with guest chefs from other restaurants; the next one will take place on January 16 with Bæst pizzaiolo Christian Puglisi – an event created by the restaurant to celebrate the cult of pizza. To kick off, pizza chefs Rafa Panatieri and Jorge Sastre, who run the best pizzeria in Barcelona and number 21 in the world according to the 50 Top Pizza World 2022 ranking (which is topped by I Masanielli, Martucci’s pizzeria in Caserta, Naples) asked for their guest’s assistance. A six-handed session ensued that demonstrated the furor gourmet pizza is causing around the world and in the Catalan capital, where specialized restaurants are constantly springing up that pamper both the slow-fermented dough and all the ingredients to top it, with a focus on locally sourced, seasonal products, making pizza a more luxurious and more sustainable snack.

Francesco Martucci in the kitchens of Sartoria Panatieri in Barcelona.
Francesco Martucci in the kitchens of Sartoria Panatieri in Barcelona.

Martucci follows this philosophy at his Caserta location and it is the same philosophy employed at Sartoria Panatieri. That’s why the Italian maestro was looking forward to cooking with its chefs. Panatieri recounted that they met Martucci at the Top Pizza World gala and he immediately proposed this collaboration. “The most important thing is that young people continue to transmit the values of pizza,” says Martucci, who praises the work of Panatieri and Sastre, who have two establishments in Barcelona. “It is very gratifying that he recognizes what we do; we feel very valued,” Panatieri said after the event at his restaurant.

Born into a humble family, the man who is now the world’s best pizzaiolo started working at his uncle’s pizzeria at age 10. He started out washing dishes, but always with the dream of becoming a great chef himself one day. “I’ve gone further than I ever imagined,” he says. He describes his pizzas as “revolutionary” because they are different from the rest. The keys lie in a 36-hour fermented dough using high quality flour and the desire to play around with toppings, which vary and mix much more than a standard marinara or capricciosa. “Pizza can have anything the chef creates,” he says. However, that doesn’t mean Martucci believes the classics have no place on the menu. For him, the best margherita is made with San Marzano tomatoes, Fior di latte cheese and basil. But the one he enjoys the most is made by his brother, who runs the Sasa Martucci pizzeria in Caserta, and uses just a handful of ingredients – four types of tomatoes and cheese. The most basic ingredients can be sublime.

'Futuro di marinara' pizza, with roasted tomato cream, Caiazzo olives, Trapani anchovies, wild garlic pesto, Salina capers and oregano from the Lattari mountains.
'Futuro di marinara' pizza, with roasted tomato cream, Caiazzo olives, Trapani anchovies, wild garlic pesto, Salina capers and oregano from the Lattari mountains.

For the dinner in Barcelona he served some of his restaurant’s most successful pizzas, such as Mani di velluto (silk hands), with a cream of friarielli (turnip greens) in ricotta cheese water, Campania designation of origin buffalo mozzarella, Pelatello Teanese salami with fennel, pecorino cheese from the Lattari mountains and Itran’s by Madonna dell’Olivo extra virgin olive oil. Also on the menu was his Alice nel paese delle meraviglie (Alice in Wonderland), which has a base of Fior di latte and black cabbage and is topped with anchovies, Terra di Lavoro saffron mayonnaise, cavolonero chips and cranberries. The starters – a selection of Italian cured meats with focaccia and smoked butter – were by Sartoria Panatieri, as was the dessert, a classic tiramisu.

“We have to align ourselves with the world,” Martucci says, arguing that it is time to bet on sustainable projects. In his restaurant, the oven is wood-fired, all the energy is renewable and the ingredients are local and seasonal. But the pizzaiolo, who also runs the Sophia Loren restaurant in Milan, doesn’t want to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes either. “My passion is cars, fashion and design,” admits Martucci, who owns a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.

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