My life in food: James Elliot, co-founder of Pizza Pilgrims
'It's got to be pizza ... I have become a bit of a pizza stud'
Thursday 22 August 2013
In September 2011, brothers James, 27, and Thom Elliot, 30, travelled to Italy to discover the true art of pizza making. They converted a Piaggio Ape van into a mobile pizza oven to bring Napoli-inspired street food to London, and, earlier this year, released their first book. This month they opened a permanent pizzeria on Dean Street, in Soho.
What are your most-used and least-used pieces of kitchen kit?
The least-used is a rolling pin. It has no place in a Neapolitan pizzeria. Everything is done with hands, really. All the dough is hand-stretched. The most-used thing: my hands.
If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
Can I split it into two things? I would go get falafel at the Vegetarian Falafel stall in the Berwick Street Market. And then with the change I would go to I Camisa & Son, the Italian delicatessan on Old Compton Street where I buy canola oil.
What do you eat for comfort?
Pasta. A lot of pasta with chilli and garlic. It is all I eat. And mint Viennettas. Pasta followed by mint Viennetta. Never before – that is sacrilege.
If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Bread. Definitely. I think it's got to be pizza. I have become a bit of a pizza stud; I think I would make it myself.
What's your desert island recipe?
Aubergine parmigiana. It is just the most delicious thing in the world. It's not a dish you can rush – you have got to take your time with it. You can tell if you rush it. There's lots of little steps to it. You can take all day over making it.
What's your favourite restaurant?
Barrafina, I would say. It is a Spanish tapas and seafood restaurant in Soho, on Frith Street. It's as close to perfection as I think a restaurant can get.
What's your favourite cookbook?
I have one which is Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson. We also got to write our own cookbook, which was mad. That was before we opened the restaurant. At the moment, my whole life is taken up with the restaurant but I would love to write some more. Our cookbook is all Italian cooking; it basically maps our trip in Italy, our pilgrimage. It charts the geography of food from south to north and how money and weather changed our thinking.
Who taught you to cook?
My mum taught me the basics. She ran the pubs that I grew up in. I then worked together with the chef in the pub kitchens. But Italian food I learned from a guy called Antonino Esposito, a pizza chef in Naples. He taught me how to make pizza and got me thinking about Italian food. I was working for him in 2011.
I have been back a couple of times. He has always been a person at the other end of a phone to ask questions about pizza. My brother, Thom, travelled around with me. But he would probably describe himself more as an eater than a cooker. He definitely eats more than he cooks. He's learning, he's definitely getting there. He can make a good pizza now.
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