Auroville’s Antonio Scirocco is the Italian behind the wood-burning pizza ovens cropping up in restaurants and homes across the country
ANTONIO SCIROCCO is not like most Italians we’ve met, at least not at first glance. The baker—who has been garnering praise from chefs and restaurateurs alike for his custom-made, wood-fired stone pizza ovens—is not big on small talk, as we catch up over some lemonade at Jonah’s Bistro in Poes Garden. But the 30-something soon begins chatting animatedly once we broach his favourite topic — ovens. Ushering us into the kitchen, where one of his beauties—a yellow and purple stone mosaic ovenholds prime place, Scirocco springs into action.Expertly kneading dough and chopping tomatoes, peppers and salami, he has a pizza sliding into the oven in no time. “I’m a baker first, then an oven maker, and this is where I feel at home the most,” he laughs, as he pulls out two perfectly-baked pizzas in minutes, imparting a lovely, smoky flavor.
An Italian based in Auroville, Scirocco came to India in 2008 with his family,when he helped set up Tantos Pizzeria in Pondicherry. He later started the pizza restaurant- Sciro Pizza at the Auroville Visitors Centre where the idea to make pizza ovens first came to him.He is the first in his family to make ovens. “I wanted to make the Italian wood-fired oven that we used to toss our pizzas in, back home. It was built through trial and error, with my experiments with stone and metal,” confesses Scirocco who adds that his oven was first noticed by a TV journalist. Her show grabbed eyeballs and Scirocco’s oven company, Il Pizzaiolo (that translated to “The pizza maker”), began getting orders from restaurants across the country. “My ovens are different from the factory assembled ones because they can cook a 8” pizza in about two minutes, while producing an optimal crust that is light on the outside and soft on the inside. The live flame inside the oven has a temperature of 300-500 degrees and the smoke imparted by the wood gives it a distinct flavour,” he says, adding that he has done zero marketing for his ovens. “The first order I got was from the Tuscana Pizzeria. From there it was simply word-of-mouth, with orders from restaurants across the city such as Tryst Cafe, Radha Regent, Igloo and so on,” says the chef, who has also built ovens for the Novotel group in Goa, Brewsky in Bengaluru and La Vie in Delhi since then. As the only oven-maker from the South, he gets about five orders every month. They are finished on site to match any décor.
Make or bake
Scirocco grew up in the kitchen,where his father was a chef at the Apricot’s Restaurant in Italy so his love for baking started early. “I began eating pizzas when I was two and made my first batch at the age of 14. Tossing a pie is my way of unwinding; it gives me energy when I bake,” he smiles adding that at Tantos he has tossed up to 150 pies in a day. He also adds that his pizza oven can be used as a tandoor of sorts to bake bread and grill chicken. Scirocco hopes to return to baking soon and start a small shop that sells his breads and pies. “For now, I’m happy getting my ovens to the top restaurants in the country, and spending the rest of my time with family,” he concludes.
Prizes starting from Rs 3,00,000. Details: ilpizzaiolo.com
With Scirocco’s ovens turning out pies at Italian restaurants across the country— like the Tuscana chain in Chennai, Tryst cafe and Meridien Group in Kochi to name a few —chefs and hoteliers are all praise for the oven-maker.
“Scirocco was referred to us by a friend who’d seen his ovens at Auroville. He installed the oven within days and tutored my people on how to use it.
He customised a granite oven to suit our outdoor theme. He doesn’t need to market them as he has a brand value through his customers,” says
Samia Sait , the owner of Tryst Cafe.
Inside the oven
Scirocco’s dome-shaped ovens (most with wheels) are made from refractory bricks coated with alumina that absorbs heat. The burner can be either wood or gas fired. “It can be designed the way the customer wants. I can do a ceramic finish, a marble one, one with chipped stones or a stone glazed oven,” says Scirocco, adding that they can bake eight to 10 pizzas in one go. “When I cook, I make my own tomato sauce from the tomatoes of Auroville botanical garden and my organic dough is sourced from Rajasthan,” he says, adding that his personal favourite remains the hand-tossed plain pizza with anchovies and tomatoes. You can catch him in action on Saturdays at the Youth Centre in Auroville, where Pizza Day is celebrated with a workshop for children. French-fry pizza, anyone?