It’s hard to describe Gabriele Bonci. Not exactly a chef but not exactly just a pizzaiolo or breadmaker. Whatever, there is a rigour and fluency in his selection of produce that would put most chefs to shame. In total, Bonci runs three outlets in Rome. Alongside his bread shop and and a recently opened store in the city’s mercato centrale, he’s probably best known for Pizzarium, his pizza by the slice store near the Vatican. Not the round neapolitan-style but pizza baked in trays that owes more to bread-making. High hydration, long proving times and seasonal, frequently rotated toppings have made Bonci a star both in Italy and in the US (where Vogue cheesily dubbed him the ‘Michelangelo of pizza’).
Bonci is famous for his commitment to what goes into his breads and on his pizza. He’s probably made a huge difference to the sales of his flour supplier, Mulino Marino, a Piedmont-based stone mill who he makes a habit of praising publicly, and frequently extols the virtues of quality-led produce, from puntarelle to mortadella.
His credo of great food being deeply rooted in agriculture goes for great oil too of course. When we caught up with him then, we shouldn’t have been surprised when he turned out to be so well-informed on the subject of olive oil.
Gabriele, you’re well-known for being very selective in the produce you use. What’s your general approach to choosing olive oils?
I always try to use the right oil for what I’m making. For example, if I’m doing a fish topping for a pizza, I’ll try and use a more delicate oil. If I’m using meat, I might use a spicier oil or one with more minerality. In any case, I’ll always use an extra virgin oil, never refined and will only use oil for topping the pizza – I never grease the trays I use before they go in the oven.
In your opinion, how far can the choice of an oil influence a dish?
The choice of oil is absolutely fundamental in giving a dish a particular character. If you don’t choose an oil in the right way, you risk it becoming too invasive and covering all the flavour of a dish. On the other hand, you can also choose an oil that is too delicate and can’t hold its own with the other components of the dish.
Are there any regions or varieties that you are particularly keen on at the moment?
At the moment I’m using the itrana variety a lot. It’s a cultivar that is produced in certain areas of the Lazio region, in particularly the province of Latina [see our piece on Madonna dell’Olivo, a Campania farm that makes a great itrana monovarietal].
There’s a lot of talk of fraud in olive oil, especially in the restaurant industry. Do you have any views on how it can be fought?
You need to focus on your customers and make them aware of what they’re buying and eating through better information. The other thing that can be done in olive oil I think is making the label better and more informative.