By Gonzalo Sanchez
Rome, Jun 22 (EFE).- Italian businessman Flavio Briatore has provoked the ire of traditional “pizzaioli” by claiming the quality of their iconic dish fades in comparison to the much more expensive ones on offer at his luxury restaurants. But in Naples, the cradle of this Italian delicacy adored the world over, chefs and diners alike are unequivocal in their belief that pizza belongs to the people.
The tycoon has bluntly attacked pizza makers who have criticized his restaurants’ high prices: “You are envious, I adore you because you give me great publicity. I am a genius and you are not, that’s the difference”, he said on social media.
At the center of the controversy is Crazy Pizza, his luxury restaurant chain where pizza is far from being the cheap, popular delicacy that represents Italian cuisine worldwide.
For example, in any local restaurant the classic Margherita, with its tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, usually costs 5 euros ($5.29), at most 8, but at Briatore’s establishments, it goes for a relatively eye-watering 15 euros.
The rest of the menu follows that line: a pizza with cooked ham goes for 29 euros, another with truffle costs 49, while the one with Pata Negra cured ham reaches a whopping 65 euros.
“We are talking about a product that young people, workers, the unemployed can eat, it is popular, not a luxury. A good pizza can cost 7 or 8 euros. With 60 euros a family eats”, Gino Sorbillo, owner of the historic Neapolitan restaurant that bears his surname, tells Efe.
Briatore’s prices offend most Italians and have outraged the “pizzaioli” of Naples, whose culinary art was recognized in 2017 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.
The Italian businessman has responded to the controversy by claiming that in his restaurants “they start from a very simple reasoning: to make the pizza with the best ingredients imaginable found on the market.”
He has not only limited himself to defending his brand, but has lashed out against the traditional pizza makers: “They give you a brick of bread with a puddle of tomato in the middle…. I would ask these guys to explain how they manage to sell a pizza at 4 or 5 euros”, he said.
“What do these gentlemen put inside the pizza? On the assumption that they pay for raw materials, taxes, salaries, rents, gas and electricity…. Either you sell 50,000 pizzas a day or it’s impossible. There is something I don’t understand,” Briatore lambasted.
“In Italy when you are successful you always find anger, they don’t think that the more you succeed, the more taxes you pay and the more jobs you create (…) If you are successful, they get angry because Italy is a spiteful, jealous and envious country,” he said.
In Naples, his words have not sat well and the most emblematic chefs insist that a good pizza can also be cheap, so much so that it served as sustenance during the famished years of World War II.
“His statements are banal, you can’t pretend to open a new place by attacking the history of pizza. It’s like opening a clothing store and picking on centuries-old seamstresses,” Sorbillo says.
But “although everyone has been angry,” the Neapolitan pizza makers have responded with their classic irony and sarcasm, inviting the millionaire to visit them and sit at the table with them.
In response, Sorbillo’s restaurant has sold its Margherita at 4 euros and organized a conference to talk about this “super-economical, healthy and genuine” product.
The president of the Verace Pizza Association (AVPN), Antonio Pace, criticized Briatore for ignoring the fact that authentic Neapolitan pizza follows “precise rules established in a culinary discipline, in the ingredients, in the times, dimensions and in its preparation”.
And, by way of a challenge, he invited the former F1 sporting director to participate in the next Pizza Olympics to engage in “a serene and friendly debate” about this dish that is loved all over the world.
“If you wish you can bring one of your pizza makers for a good challenge preparing good pizzas, we have no problem and we are sure we will have fun,” Pace says. EFE