Dom DeMarco on Red Pepper Flakes: 'It Started in Italy'

Brooklyn’s iconic pizzaiolo grew up growing hot peppers but doesn’t use the flakes himself
Dom DeMarco at work in his iconic pizzeria DiFara in Brooklyn.
Dom DeMarco

Hot peppers in olive oil have been a very successful addition at Di Fara for Dom DeMarco.

When it comes to New York City pizza, this man is a legend. After emigrating from Caserta, near Naples, to New York City in 1959, DeMarco opened Di Fara Pizza on Avenue J in Brooklyn and has been doing it his way, pie by pie, ever since. The pizzas — stretched out dough, ladled sauce, sprinkled cheese, a drizzle of oil, scissor clippings of fresh basil — are all lovingly made by the guy, how and when he wants, and drooled over by lines of locals and tourists in the know. If you haven’t braved the masses to taste a Di Fara pie, you have no right to be talking about pizza.

The question of the use of pepper flakes or hot peppers in oil as seasoning for pizza at Di Fara would be blasphemous for many. Why would you want to change the balance of flavors so lovingly — and meticulously — made? But at this Brooklyn pizza temple, even Dom DeMarco caters to customers' preference for heat.

So what's his take on the use of hot pepper on pizza? In this interivew, part of a series attempting to solve the mystery of pizza and pepper flakes, the legendary pizzaiolo (one of The Daily Meal's 60+ Coolest People in Food and Drink) weighs in with his take on their origins and discusses his own personal preference on how to eat what many would call the quintessential New York City slice.


Where does the tradition of using red pepper flakes on pizza originate from?
Growing up on a farm in Italy, hot peppers were something my family grew and used daily in cooking. It is good for you and it provides a nice spice to dishes.


Do you use red pepper flakes?
I use it in soups and in some pastas made with a garlic and oil base. Red pepper flakes are a nice additive to pizza for those who acquire the taste for added spice. I do not use them on my own pizza.


You don’t offer them at Di Fara, right? You have marinated peppers instead. What's your reasoning and feeling about them and how they contribute to the experience of eating pizza?
The peppers on the counter are a delicious sliced pepper in olive oil. I will add those to pizza depending on my mood. I will eat those with a spoon at times, too. They have been a very successful addition for us. Most of the customers look to add them to their pizza, therefore we continue to offer them. All in all, the purpose of hot peppers is a staple in many dishes and an extra depending on mood when it comes to sprinkling on the pizza.

Read more from this series of interviews with prominent pizzaiolos and experts on the question of the origins of the use of red pepper flakes on pizza: When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?