In the Italian city of Naples, pizza is not just an occasional treat – it’s a way of life. Ellie Dyer and photographer Conor Wall visit Dolce Italia in Phnom Penh to see an authentic Neapolitan pizzaiolo at work.
Michele Sceral’s hands move at dizzying speeds as he flings dough between his fingers to form a perfect pizza base. As he stands by the roaring flames of the wood-fired oven at Dolce Italia, it’s clear from the concentration etched on his face that this is a man who takes pizza very seriously.
Sceral comes from a family of pizza makers, or pizzaioli, in the Italian city of Naples – where the iconic dish was first invented as poor man’s street food in 1600. Not only are his uncle, brothers and brother-in-law all employed in the art, but Sceral has honed his talent for the last 14 years in kitchens in America, France and the United Kingdom.
Now, Sceral, a member of the Asscoiazione Pizzaioli Napoletani, is bringing his skills to Cambodia to work at Dolce Italia – a new venture from Pop Café owner and well-known expat Giorgio Arcasi.
“There are 20 to 30 places where you can eat pizza in Phnom Penh, but not one of them makes a traditional pizza (Napoletana),” says Arcasi. “I wanted to do things properly.”
Arcasi’s first challenge in realising his vision was to build a brick oven capable of cooking the dough base to perfection in two and a half minutes at a temperature of 400 degrees Celsius. Once construction was underway, Arcasi’s next task was to find a pizzaiolo who could introduce Cambodia to the soft, fluffy base typical of the Naples specialty.
A phone call to his mother in Italy later and Sceral was soon on a plane to the light and airy rustic restaurant set opposite the Vietnamese monument on Sothearos Boulevard.
Ingredients were also a concern for Arcasi, who decided to import tomatoes and bread flour from Italy and mozzarella cheese from Thailand to give his dishes an authentic taste. “Quality is very important,” he says.
A month after opening, Dolce Italia has already earned a loyal following for its pizzas. Prices range from $6 for a simple tomato, oregano and garlic creation to $16 for the restaurant’s namesake pizza. The Dolce Italia features ingredients sandwiched between two bases, in what can only be described as a giant pizza sandwich.
“We’ve had a wonderful reaction, I’m so excited,” Ascari beams. “I knew Italians would understand the difference between pizzas, but I was not sure that other customers would understand – but they did”
But a word of warning, don’t try ordering a Hawaiian. The mere mention of pineapple on the pride of Naples brings a grimace from Sceral’s face and a cry of shock from proud Italian Ascari, who can only describe the fruity topping as “blasphemy.”