Franco Pepe and pizza
His grandpa was a bread baker, dad was a pizzaiolo, his brothers also pizza makers, Franco Pepe grew up amidst flour and dough, but despite the family history, his was a belated vocation: "as a boy I didn't want to be a pizzaiolo" he says. A strenuous job that took time - whole days - from life, which required energy, sacrifice, effort. So he changed his ways, and with him his brothers: P.E. teacher Franco, accountant Nino, architect Massimiliano. The passing of his father, in 1996, marked a breakthrough. The family pizzeria had to carry on, and a decision had to be made, responsibly, giving up everything to ensure continuity in that business that has given so much, and has taken so much from the family, but which is its pure expression. Thus began the second life of the Pepe brothers, in the name of tradition, carrying on the identity of their father's pizza. That's when he understood that he was changing something for pizza: no longer just a humble food, but something that can (and must) have value, prepared with quality ingredients and precise techniques. So he began a mad and desperate study, stealing knowledge and know-how from his fellow pizza makers, and also reaping inspiration from haute cuisine. He conquered knowledge and awareness, aware that he could create with his own hands, with ideas chasing each other fast. At that point it was no longer enough to work on the concept of pizza, but also on that of the pizzeria. It is then that the brothers' paths divide: on the one hand the brothers wanted to continue their father's path, on the other Franco wanted to make his own pizza, to express his identity. It was not an easy decision but by now it was clear that his future was elsewhere. Then the idea of a pizzeria of his own was born. He needed the right place. He found it in a 1700 building in the centre of Caiazzo, a town of 5,000 inhabitants in the Upper Caserta area.
The birth of Pepe in Grani
14 October 2012: Pepe in Grani opens, a place of experimentation, craftsmanship, hospitality, training and enhancement of flavours, products and inhabitants of the area, which has been overwhelmed since Pepe's arrival: today Pepe serves 400 customers and bakes 800 pizzas per day. 10 years have passed, and many things have happened in the meantime: many investments, for example the expansion with the addition of two guest rooms in the same building as the pizzeria, the creation of the tasting room in 2014 and the Authentica space in 2017, a private room, with a single semicircular table for 8-10 place settings around a dedicated wood-burning oven. And then many initiatives and projects, such as the opening at Albereta in Franciacorta, "Proxima", born in 2021 with the imprint of replicability, in which to systematise the know-how accumulated over years of work in Caiazzo. Above all, however, there is the idea of constant research on doughs and toppings, enhancing and often saving the best local products from oblivion, raising the bar of creativity, but also the responsibility of those who take charge with the health food of others, as demonstrated by the creation of the "functional menu" in 2018.
10 years of commitment, and many awards that have placed him at the top of the national stage (for 10 years at the top of the Gambero Rosso Pizzerie guide, awarded with the Tre Spicchi recognition) as on international level: gastronome and Pulitzer Prize recipient Jonathan Gold consecrated him in the edition of Food & Wine magazine: "I probably" he says "ate the best pizza in the world at Franco Pepe's." From then on it was an impetuous race, which Franco tackled with his usual concentration: loved by colleagues and insiders (he is the most voted pizza maker in Phaidon's "Where to Eat Pizza" guide) he collects award after award: he is Pizza Maker of the Year for "Food and Travel", "Pizza Awards Italia", in first place in the Europe Cheap Eats section of the Opinionated About Dining, present at The Best Chef Awards 2021 and 2022, while Pepe in Grani was the first pizzeria to be part of the 50 Best Discovery of "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" in 2019. A success that has generated an incredible impact on Caiazzo, fueling an unthinkable tourist industry for the town, to the point of receiving the honour of "Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic" in 2019 precisely for having contributed to increasing the wealth of the territory with his work, a recognition he repeated in 2020 when President Sergio Mattarella appointed him "Cavaliere al Merito della Repubblica", for the commitment during the toughest moment of the pandemic, when Pepe in Grani continued to work for the most affected sectors of the Caserta community.
In his palmares there are also books including La mia pizza autentica, with the words of his journalist friend Enrico Caracciolo, the photos of Lido Vannucchi, a volume published by Gambero Rosso, which also dedicated a program to him, entitled La mia pizza è un viaggio (my pizza is a journey). In 2022, Netflix dedicated an episode of Chef's Table Pizza to him, the only Italian together with Gabriele Bonci.
Pepe in Grani: 10 years, 10 friends and more.
10 years after turning on the Caiazzo oven for the first time, with the new generation already in the business, which today has 40 employees, Franco Pepe celebrates with 10 years, 10 friends and more, a series of joint evenings, hosting pizza makers, chefs, friends and colleagues with whom he shares visions, ideas and fixed points. Chef friend Giuseppe Iannotti (Krèsios) starts the event on November 29th, followed by Floriano Pellegrino and Isabella Potì (Bros'), Gabriele Bonci, Antonia Klugmann (L'Argine a Vencò), and then Christian Puglisi and Ana Roš.
Events will continue for a whole year on a monthly basis, there will be Chris Bianco, Nancy Silverton, Sarah Minnick, Corrado Assenza, Moreno Cedroni, Francesco Sposito and Salvatore Bianco. The dates are still TBD, so keep an eye on the website. It's truly worth it.
Pepe in Grani - Caiazzo (CE) - vico San Giovanni Battista, 3 - www.pepeingrani.it
by Antonella De Santis