Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 28 August 2014
Francesco Crispo knows more than a thing or two about how to make a great pizza. For the past 12 years he’s been consumed with honing his craft, which was first cultivated while working under a renowned Italian chef in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic for four years. The accountant-turned-chef was even born in Naples, which in the 16th century became the birthplace of modern day pizza. Luckily for Yangonites, Mr Crispo (whose name couldn’t be more apt) arrived in the commercial capital three months ago to become executive chef of Parami Pizza, which opened in Yangon’s northern township of Mayangone on July 25.
“We ferment the yeast for at least 24 hours before using it: if it’s any less than that, a person’s stomach may start to feel strange a few hours after eating a pizza,” Mr Crispo told Mizzima Business Weekly while furiously rolling identically sized balls of dough.
Mr Crispo said that most pizza chefs have their own individual style of creating a pizza base – his preference is for a soft yet crispy one, “So that you can hear the crunch.”
However he added that he always takes his customers’ tastebuds into account, which is why he thinned down the crusts a little since the restaurant first opened.
Parami Pizza imports the finest quality Italian ingredients for its pizzas, such as flour, wild mushrooms and tomato sauce (as well as risotto, pasta, olives and coffee – to name but a few). However importing foreign produce is not without its obstacles in Yangon, as some of the ingredients have never before set foot in Myanmar and raise eyebrows when they arrive.
“Sometimes when our orders from Italian suppliers are delivered, the customs department asks us to supply additional paperwork before the goods can be released – they say they don’t know what it is we’ve had delivered. This can make things difficult because the delays sometimes result in us lacking every ingredient we need on any given day,” Mr Crispo said.
“But we always serve up the best food we can according to our supplies; even if that means having to apologise to customers for not being able to provide a particular item on our menu,” he added.
Another challenge Parami Pizza currently faces is the lack of reliable wood suppliers in Yangon. Strips of wood are generally sold on the street-side or bought from local farmers after being exposed to heavy monsoon rains, which is highly problematic for a restaurant seeking to cook pizza in the traditional Italian style using a wood fired oven.
“We’ll have to wait a month before our stock of wood dries out, so in the meantime our pizzas are cooked using gas. For more than 10 years I’ve cooked pizzas in a wood fired oven: wood is my baby!” Mr Crispo said with a somewhat bittersweet laugh.
He said he is so determined to have the wood dried out as quickly as possible that he heats it in the oven every morning when he arrives at work.
Fortunately, Parami Pizza’s general managers Nat Hutley and Nico Elliot (who also established the highly popular Union Bar and Gekko Bar) were far-sighted enough to purchase a combination oven that allows the use of either wood or gas.
“In the past 10 years gas ovens have become very good – it’s difficult to taste the difference,” Mr Crispo explained.
Pizza prices start at USD$9 (for the Parami Special) while the Norcia pizza, which features artichokes, parmesan flakes and black truffles, tops the list at $16. The Prosciutto e Funghi ($12) is highly recommended and has already established itself as a favourite among diners, as it contains a delectable combination of ham, basil, tomato, cheese, king mushrooms and adorably tiny wild mushrooms.
However Parami Pizza isn’t limited to pizzas alone. Its menu includes a wide range of antipasto dishes, salads, pastas and risottos, a daily soup special ($4), as well as the Milanese specialty Osso Bucco (sheared veal shanks served with vegetables and risotto), which will set you back $24.
The coffee is excellent (and also includes liquor coffee) and there are Italian aperitifs such as Campari ($6), while cocktails are priced between $7 and $8 and include the romantically named, “Breakfast at Cipriani.”
Many of Parami Pizza’s 20 kitchen staff have worked in Italian restaurants abroad and although only around 50 percent speak English, Mr Crispo dismissed the idea that communication was a problem.
“I’ve often worked with kitchen staff who don’t speak English. It doesn’t matter because I show people how to cook; I don’t need to tell them,” he said.
“I love Myanmar people – here in Yangon I start my day with a smile. I’ve worked in 11 different countries and I believe that Myanmar people are the nicest. They keep me calm,” he added.
Mr Franceso’s days are long because he refuses to leave the restaurant until it’s closed and arrives before it opens (other staff work either the lunch or dinner shift). His sense of personal responsibility for his diners’ satisfaction is admirable – and the results tangible.
“I often get calls from customers after I leave a restaurant. When I left one particular restaurant in the UAE, customers continued to contact me over the following year. Some would send me photos of food on their smartphones with a message saying, ‘Look what they serve now!’” he said with a grin.
On the day Mizzima Business Weekly visited Parami Pizza, the inside dining area became increasingly busy from noon: to the point of virtually every seat being occupied (the outdoor terrace will open once the monsoon season ends). According to Restaurant Manager Ko Myo Paing Aung, the evenings are even busier.
“It wasn’t busy the first day we opened – but that’s not been the case ever since,” said Mr Crispo.
Parami Pizza is open daily from 11am until midnight and it is located on 11/8 (7th Quarter) on the corner of Malikha and Parami roads in Mayangone Township.
For more information, call (01) 667 449 or visit Parami Pizza’s Facebook page