What do some of New York City's lauded pizzaiolos think about the origins of the use of red pepper flakes on pizza? How do they think pepper flakes contribute or detract from the pizza-eating experience? And how do they eat their pizza: with or without flakes? In this interivew, part of a series attempting to solve the mystery of pizza and pepper flakes, Michele Iuliano, the owner of popular New York City pizza-centric restaurants Luzzo’s, Ovest, and Da Mikele, gives his take on all things red pepper flakes and pizza.
Do you know anything about the intersection of red pepper flakes and pizza? How this connection came about in the first place?
A red pepper flake — pepperoncini — is a condiment used most frequently in the south of Italy, and used to top many foods. Pizza is a product born in southern Italy and so it’s only natural that pepperoncini would find their way on top of pizza.
Do you use red pepper flakes and what's your reasoning and feeling about them and how they contribute to the experience of eating pizza?
Occasionally I do use pepperoncini on my pizza. In fact, at Luzzo’s we make red pepper-infused olive oil. It’s frequently requested by our clients. Pepperoncino adds a bit of a kick that tends to initially shock the palate — especially when used in excess. Some people love the heat.
Which is a truer experience?
I don’t necessarily think that there’s a "truer" experience. Notwithstanding that, it’s true that authentic Neapolitan pizza has three primary ingredients, but the addition of an herb or spice (very frequently oregano and red pepper flakes) does change the taste and the experience of the original product.
Do you have any feelings about people who do or don't use them?
I’m neutral with respect to people’s use or not. Eating is a very subjective experience. If the addition of pepperoncini increases one’s pleasure, so be it.
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?