Lately we heard of a few pizzaioli that switched from cooking in a professional kitchen to working in a pizzeria. This accidentally coincides with the release of our podcast interview with Gabriele of Pizza Lab in Amsterdam who made the jump himself.
Initially we thought we would ask a few of our ex-chef friends about their experience with the aim of collating the info into a blog post, but when we received a very thorough response from Charles, Head Pizzaiolo at Rudy's, we realised this would be better presented as an interview. Enjoy!
1. How did you make the transition:
I actually made the transition by accident, I moved to Manchester to get a job outside of hospitality. But after a few weeks of trying to find something nothing came up. Eventually someone told me that a restaurant called Rudy's was looking for a prep chef and that the reputation was amazing, one of the best pizzerias on the UK. Hearing this was the spark that brought back my passion for food and the opportunity to do something new. After that I called everyday until I finally got through to the right person and was brought in for a chat with the head pizzaiolo.
2. How did you find this experience?
The transition was amazing, I think especially as someone who is not a part of that culture. It was like going traveling. Being surrounded by people who had so much passion for one product and one focus.
3. What do you think the main difference is between working in a professional kitchen and a pizzeria?
The main difference I find is that the stress levels and work life balance are much better in the pizzeria. I no longer had to think about 20 different things to do at the same time but instead all of my focus was put onto making this one pizza perfect. My work life balance also improved dramatically, it became work to live instead of live to work which is very prevalent in traditional brigade style kitchens.
4. How long did it take you to become proficient?
I would say from my initial start in the pizzeria to being able to work proficiently by myself was about 6 months to 1 year. But with pizza I find the more you know the more you have to learn. Now as a head chef of a pizzeria I still find myself picking things up from my chefs everyday and finding new ways to work with dough, the oven, how to stretch even better. It's always a learning experience everyday and I find that each chef I meet has a new thing to teach me or vice versa.
5. Would you say salaries are similar?
My salary as a pizzaiolo is definitely better than when I was a chef. I feel like I am actually compensated for my skills and knowledge, and much more secure in my position.
6. What extra value and skills can someone trained as a chef bring to a pizzeria?
Anyone coming into a pizzeria with previous chef experience will always be better off than someone with limited knowledge of how a kitchen works. Your main focus can be on learning the skills of a pizzaiolo instead of learning from the ground up. Not to say it's impossible but it 100% puts you at a great advantage. It also will allow you to bring knowledge from your previous cooking experience to really show what can be done with pizza, it's an always evolving craft that is still rooted in deep tradition.
7. Would you go back?
Personally no I wouldn't go back to a traditional brigade kitchen. It's never an easy job being a chef and I find that I get so much more gratification for myself with what I do now compared to previously. It might sound silly but pizza truly changed my life, allowed me to travel the world knowing I will always find a job and similar people to work with wherever I go.