Interview: The Pizza Guys

The latest pizza concept to ditch the freezer and go fresh

Rami Badawi and Amber Haque learned pizza-making from master pizzaiolos.
Rami Badawi and Amber Haque learned pizza-making from master pizzaiolos.

When did The Pizza Guys open its doors?

We opened our doors on February 1, 2013.

You clearly take the concept of ‘fresh’ seriously. What challenges, if any, does a lack of a freezer pose, and how did you overcome them?

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We are very proud of the fact that we do not have a freezer. Fresh ingredients are a priority for us, but it can come with some challenges. It’s really about managing your inventory and knowing when and how much to order from your suppliers. For example, we know that weekends tend to be busier because people love ordering pizza for parties, for their children, or before heading out to an event. So naturally, we will order more cheese and more fresh vegetables, and make more meatballs, in anticipation. You also need to keep track of expiry dates. We are pretty strict about labelling everything. From time to time, we do run out of certain items. However, if it’s truly fresh and artisanal this is bound to happen. It’s the nature of the beast. We try our best to anticipate demand as much as possible.

So how do you store your cheeses and meats without a freezer?

We have a temperature-controlled cold room for our dairy and meat products, which are sealed and stored properly and in separate, designated areas. We order our cheeses three times a week and our meat every other day. Most of our cheeses are made locally — our stracciatella cheese is handmade — and our Wagyu arrives chilled from Australia. We keep track of expiry dates and label all our ingredients properly.

In your opinion, is going freezer-less something that other casual dining concepts such as yours can do?

Guests love the no freezer touch but it’s not for everyone. It all depends on your food concept and the promise you make to your customers. For some, providing meals made with organic produce is a priority. If you are going to run an operation without a freezer, know that it is a serious commitment. It is not something you can change on a whim. It becomes a part of your branding and core identity.

Heading to the US to train at the Association of True Neopolitan Pizza to get the pizza-making technique right was a big move; when did you two realise you had to go, and what was the convincing factor?

We knew right away. In fact, the idea of The Pizza Guys was conceived with the intention of going to the source and learning everything there was to know about pizza. For us it was about doing it right or not at all. If there is one thing we want people to take away from this, it is that The Pizza Guys does not take short cuts. So we went to Vera Pizza Napoletana, the American Chapter of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Naples, in the summer of 2011 and trained with two master pizzaiolos in the art of traditional Neapolitan pizza.

How do you think your experiences while training and in New York have influenced you?

New York is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has an explosive restaurant scene, characterised by an unbelievable amount of creativity and energy that surrounds all kinds of food, from street food to high-end gourmet creations. It is inventive and constantly evolving. And if you visit ten different pizzerias in New York, including some of the city’s oldest, you will have ten different pizza experiences. That was extremely liberating in our quest to make our signature dough. Traditional New York style pizza is based on Neapolitan pizza — it is baked at extremely high temperatures and topped with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. Those were pretty much our only constraints.

The NY experience was in stark contrast to the VPN experience where traditions and rules have not evolved and adhered to strictly. But this was very important for us because we learned old world, time-tested methods of shaping and leavening dough, and really that is where the process of making excellent pizza starts. The dedication and commitment Italians display towards their craft is definitely a key inspiration for The Pizza Guys.

Was it a challenge hiring staff members/team for the kitchen?

We had a tough time finding pizza makers to help us make the kind of pizza we wanted. We operate our oven at 450 degrees, which is very high and higher than most pizzerias here. That means the pizzas cook pretty fast. We also make our pizzas a lot bigger than Napoli ones — it’s NY style, after all — so we needed a pizzaiolo who could stretch a disc of dough to 16 inches and then expertly cook and rotate it in an extremely hot brick oven, all in mere minutes. The best thing you can do for your business is take the time to hire the right resources. We cannot stress this enough.

How involved are you with the menu creation?

The entire menu, including all recipes, was created by us. The recipes were tested over a period of many months until Rami was 100% satisfied. He has a strong background in hospitality and food with the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the United States. We are here every day and involved in all aspects of the operation. There are still some things that only we do, like mixing all the dough. I’m the only one that makes the Lindt dark chocolate chip cookies. The spice mix for the Wagyu meatballs — that’s also a secret.

What's the story behind having hormone-free wagyu beef? Why was that important?

There is a lot of hype in Dubai right now about food that is organic and gluten free. All that is great, but it’s not just about that. It’s also about chemical additives, growth hormones and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. All harmful things that have can have serious repercussions for your health. We have been following the Monsanto pesticide controversy unfolding in the United States. It’s really unfortunate. Our preference always is for hormone-free food, for ourselves and our families. When we found a Wagyu farm in Australia producing hormone-free meat, we were over the moon. Free-range cattle eating grain free of chemicals and without the use of growth hormones; that’s exactly what we wanted.

Was it difficult finding suppliers of ingredients for your vision?

We’re blessed in Dubai. There isn’t much that we do not get. For the few things that are not available — that’s really an opportunity for us to get creative. New York City is a beehive of creativity and inventive eats. There is no reason why we cannot create that vibe here. Like any restaurant, we have a lot of suppliers. Emirates Snack Foods helped us import our pizza flour — Le 5 Stagioni’s flour for Pizza Napoletana — from Venice, Italy. In addition to food, we would be remiss to not acknowledge TSSC, our kitchen equipment supplier. At the end of the day, this is a kitchen with mechanical equipment that breaks down. Having a supplier who not only delivers equipment but is with you every step of the way is probably something often overlooked by most budding restauteurs. The last thing you want is a state-of-the-art kitchen with no technical support.

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