When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?

A guide to how, where, when, and with whom this hot affair began
When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?
Arthur Bovino

Sure, they're always together. But where did it all begin?

"Since a slice of pizza is essentially the perfect food of independence — the first food you ever bought with your own money without your parents on a Saturday afternoon — it's only right that one should have the ability to modify it to personal perfection," explained pizza guide Scott Wiener (left), who uses flakes on pizza with low-moisture mozzarella. "Searching through the dozens of shakers on the counter at your favorite pizzeria is part of the personalization process, and once you find that pepper flake dispenser it's entirely up to you how much to apply to your slice."

Read an interview with Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours

That philosophy disturbs some pizzaiolos, like Jonathan Goldsmith (right) of Chicago’s Spacca Napoli, who’s bothered when his staff offers pepper flakes before a customer requests them. "I have spent many years doing my research and training with regard to Neapolitan pizza and pizze from other regions of Italy," he said. "It is my wish that these pizzas are presented as I have found them on menus or in pizzerias during my travels, or have been lovingly shared with me by someone Italian."

Read an interview with Jonathan Goldsmith of Spacca Napoli

But that’s not a sentiment shared by all pizzaiolos. Dom DeMarco said he doesn’t use pepper flakes on pizza, but he offers peppers in oil at Di Fara. "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."

In the accompanying slideshow and series of interviews, DeMarco and more than 15 other of America’s notable pizzaiolos and pizza experts weighed in with their takes on the use of pepper flakes.

Read an interview with Michele Iuliano Pizza of Luzzo

Read an interview with Salvatore Vitale of Joe's Pizza

Meanwhile, back in Italy, the tradition may be coming full circle. Last year, an article, "Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pizza Come Sport Estremo Concluso Dai Pompieri" was published on a popular Italian food site advertising itself as "nothing of the sacred other than food." The author talks about how hot pepper ruins pizza, though not so much lamenting use of seeds and flakes, but the use of salamis, spreads, and whole peppers. So there’s some movement.

Having settled all that, there’s one last question. Who the hell designed those iconic pepper flake shakers? And why did they think it was a good idea to make holes so small the flakes would always clog?