Stefano Manfredi Our Daily Bread
Culinary icon Stefano Manfredi on the art of pizza bread and his childhood memories of Australian Cuisine.
When it comes to pizza, Stefano Manfredi makes one thing clear – it all starts with the base. "There's a reason it's called pizza, and not 'topping', you know", he says. "I would call that a garnish philosophy, that the base is just a vehicle for the toppings. The idea that you'd leave the crust doesn't sit well for an Italian, because I've always got my mother and my grandmother looking at me to see what I'm throwing away," he laughs. "I throw anything away, I get a slap." Not many people leave behind the crust at the latest incarnation of his popular pizzAperta concept, it turns out.
Nestled inside Sydney's sprawling West HQ complex, it's a light-filled venue presented as a welcoming, rustic villa courtyard. What visitors may not know is that the dough for its pizza and pasta dishes represents the fruits of Manfredi's lockdown labours, and a further evolution of the breadmaking he has diligently practiced for decades now at his numerous restauarants, such as the sourdough recipe he conceived for his Bel Mondo restauarant in the mid-90s.
Stefano Manfredi's pizza resturant, PizzAperta
FIRES OF REINVENTION
"I came back to bread through pizza," says Manfredi. As Covid closed borders around the world in 2020, Manfredi found himself living above a friend's family pizza shop in Italy for over four months. It led to a serendipitous rediscovery of one of Italian cuisine's most essential elements – dough, and the endless possibilities it presents to the curious chef.
They were still doing takeaways during Covid, and in the morning the pizza oven was still hot – 250, 260 degrees. The residual heat was perfect, so I started playing with all these different flours, good Italian flours, you know.
Manfredi began expanding on the knowledge he'd gleaned from an earlier deep dive into dough, undertaken when Star Casino first asked him to establish a pizzerria in a little "hole-in-the-wall" venue back in 2014 – the first pizzAperta.
Left: Stefano manfredi's pizza oven; Stefano Manfredi's Pillow of Dreams dish.
"I went round Italy and had a look at what was happening with pizza," he says. "I went to Naples first, and in many ways I was disappointed. It was all volume and low price. What was happening outside of Naples was much more interesting, especially up in the north," he recalls.
There were chefs who had gone into pizza making from a chef's point of view. They'd taken pizza back to its complete ground zero, and started working with fantastic flours, grown by specific people. Then the fermentation process was looked at and reworked.
The dough that resulted was, in every sense, alive.
"You've got the germ in there, the endosperm, a bit of crust, and it's a lot tastier – the dough is so light, so active, it's phenomenal." It many ways, it was a full-circle return to the food of his early childhood in Lombardy, Italy.
Left: Stefano Mnafredi; Right: Stefano Manfredi's pizza
A WORLD AWAY
After all, when Manfredi first arrived in Australia at age six with his family, he must have wondered whether he'd ever taste the sweet life of his home country ever again. It was 1961, and as a resident at the Bonegilla migrant hostel, the fresh flavours of his mother's and grandmother's kitchens were now literally a world away.
"It was January, and stinking hot. You weren't allowed to cook in your hut, you had to eat in a communal canteen. And the food... the food was just bloody awful," Manfredi recalls. "It was boiled mutton done with gravy, which came out of a packet, and boiled vegetables. That was the diet."
Times, of course, have changed, in large part due to the efforts of a young Manfredi, whose decision to open The Restaurant Manfredi in 1983 helped accelerate Australia's transformation into a globally informed culinary nation.
"It had clicked with me that the cooking in my family was quite special," says Manfredi. "My reason for opening a restaurant was to put my family's cooking on the table." How very sweet indeed.