PIZZA BOYS | INTERVIEW
The story of two Welshmen with big pizza-making dreams, new five-part BBC series Pizza Boys follows Jez Phillips, Ieuan Harry and their three-wheeled van ‘Smokey Pete’ across Europe on their journey to compete in the Pizza World Championships.
What inspired you to enter the world of pizza?
Ieuan: It’s one of those things that everybody just loves. When we were having a spark of the idea, Jez went on a trip to Naples – the birthplace of pizza. Once you try the pizza out there, it’s just so inspiring.
Jez: Growing up eating Domino’s or Pizza Hut, when you try proper, authentic Neapolitan pizza for the first time, it’s completely different. From there, it was just looking into how you are going to make this idea real.
How did you go from this initial idea, to making pizzas as Ffwrnes, to the Pizza Boys series?
Ieuan: We’d just won the Welsh Italian pizza awards and were making pizzas at festivals and weddings. We filmed a test and, on the back of that, collaborated with Orchard Productions. They approached S4C and it ballooned from there. At that point, we didn’t have a pizza place – just the idea of two Welsh boys going on a road trip across Europe, in their three-wheeler van, to try and win the world championships!
So, what’s the story behind your van ‘Smokey Pete’?
Jez: In the historic heart of Naples, where most of the pizzerias are, the roads are really narrow. You see hundreds of these three-wheeler vans just whizzing around as they’re perfect for the little streets. That was the inspiration – then it was a case of scouring the internet and going on eBay. After a bottle of red wine, we built up the courage to bid. It was pretty exciting at the time, then the realisation hits you!
Ieuan: Once we’d actually bought it, everything took a while to sort out. It’s from Holland and all the paperwork was in Dutch. It was a bit of a hassle to get it roadworthy, but we got there in the end.
What was the most unique experience on your road trip?
Ieuan: When we visited pizzerias in Naples, the owners would invite us ‘behind the scenes’ into the kitchens. In Italy, these chefs are like rockstars. It’s the equivalent to kids looking at Premier League footballers – and we were being asked to make pizzas alongside them! That was incredible.
Jez: In the Michelin-starred restaurants of San Sebastian, we were just expecting to do an interview, but then we were invited to the chef’s table. We’re just two regular guys and to have all this posh, fancy food in front of us was just fantastic.
Ieuan: Looking back, it was quite crazy really. We did everything from start to finish. Travelling, prepping, cooking, then going back to the tent to wash everything at midnight before starting again the next day. One thing about the programme is that we probably fail a lot more than we succeed. I hope people see the lessons we learned along the way and enjoy the show.
Did your travels influence your current recipes?
Jez: Being in Napoli was just a complete masterclass. We opened the business [Ffwrnes Pizza, in Cardiff Market] four months after we got back, and everything was based on the trip. It’s the subtle differences – the order you add the ingredients, the way you mix it, how you stretch the pizza. Then it’s the mentality: less is more, use the best ingredients and let them shine.
Ieuan: When we first started, we thought Neapolitan pizza was about Neapolitan ingredients. But good food is about using what is local to you. In Italy, they have tomatoes on their doorstep: that is what makes the pizza. So, it’s trying to adopt that.
Do you feel more pressure as your reputation has grown?
Ieuan: Whereas before it was just two lads with nice pizza, now there’s a bit more pressure, but we just try to keep the quality top.
Having a stall in the market, a Cardiff institution, is great. You’ve got everything under one roof and there’s a real family atmosphere. At lunchtime, when everyone is sitting next to someone they don’t know, it creates that Neapolitan feel.
In Italy, pizza is for everyone. We want to make our pizza is accessible too, that’s why we try to keep our prices low and focus local ingredients.
During the pandemic, how have you adapted your business?
Jez: We’ve opened up a new pizza place in Grangetown called West Pizza. We do 18-inch New York style pizzas and we’ve been pretty busy. As the market has been closed every lockdown, we’ve tried to take a positive from the negative, and concentrate on this new concept.
What’s your favourite pizza?
Iuean: It has to be a very traditional Neapolitan pizza. It’s just tomatoes, a hard cheese, black pepper and oregano. So, you get this nice peppery, herby, cheesy soup on your pizza. It can be a hard sell because there’s no mozzarella but once people try it, they always want more.
Jez: I think I need to go for a margarita. The nicest pizza I think we’ve done was created for the London Pizza Festival, called West Is Best. It had Abergavenny goat’s cheese, raw Welsh honey, sage, basil and sobrasada, a type of cured sausage. I just loved the unusual tastes.
The first episode of Pizza Boys is on BBC One Wales at 7.30pm on Wed 17 Feb. Info: here
words ELOUISE HOBBS photos BBC WALES
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