The pizzaiolo is bringing his celebrated Trianon Vomero pizzeria in Naples to London. He tells Katie Pathiaki about a lifelong journey
Who inspired you to become a pizzaiolo?
My wife Francessca Leone's grandfather first taught me the original 1923 recipe that we use in Trianon Vomero in Naples and will be using at Quartieri; it's a well-guarded family secret. Food is a big part of our culture. I wanted to always be a part of it.
What was your first job in cooking?
I started as a kind of front of house manager, and then whenever we needed a hand in the kitchen and at the pizza counter, I was the first to come forward to learn from the more experienced. It was that kid in me all over again. There was something about the relationship with your hands and the contact with the dough - moving it, stretching it, seeing it change - that made me want to continue. I have been doing this for 25 years and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Now you see the younger pizzaiolos coming up with unique combinations. At Quartieri we want to pay respect to both the old-school classics and what is being created in Naples today among the younger chefs. It's important to us that we truly reflect what pizza is in Naples today.
What is the best thing about being a pizzaiolo? When you get a happy customer expressing their joy and appreciating the pizza. This is far superior, in my opinion, to any other thing. It's in all of us, I think, when we serve food that we've made, that we've put love into. It's quite romantic and very Neapolitan!
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt over the years? We have to adapt to products and processes that, until a few years ago, were completely different. It's always changing and evolving, and you need to do the same. I started very young, so I had to deal with people more experienced than me. I learned from them and I continue to learn from guys in the team, both older and younger. Finally, I believe that being humble always helps.
Why have you chosen to open in London? I wanted to bring our unique pizza concept beyond our borders. We have our foundations in tradition, but as I said, we learn and evolve continually, thinking about different dough mixes, ingredients and techniques. We chose London because it's so open to change and loves to learn continuously about food. You only have to see how many cuisines there are - Korean, Greek, Mexican, Britishâ¦ It's amazing and very different from Naples and this is very exciting to a chef. The chance to evolve here felt very natural to us and, of course, it helps that it has always been among my favourite cities in the world.
How has the industry changed compared to when you started? I think one of the most interesting things has been the awareness of the impact of food and types of food on our bodies and our mind. Food that impacts how you feel on every level is fascinating and also very challenging to an old-school pizzaiolo. Gluten-free pizza is a great example, as well as using unrefined grains or organic produce. We will be taking this very much into consideration.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps? Remain humble, work hard and appreciate where you are.
What are your plans for the future? I only plan for the next service.
Have you achieved your dream?
Sandro Santaro has always worked at Trianon - first, at the original site in Forcella before opening Trianon Vomero in 2002. He is now coming to the UK to cook at Quartiari in Kilburn, London