Hubert Burda Media

Franco Pepe Brings the World’s Best Pizza to Hong Kong

We talk to Italy’s greatest pizzaiolo about his pizza and the ingredients for his legacy.

Pizza connoisseurs who know their capricciosas from their calzones will have probably heard that Kytaly, the award-winning Italian restaurant based in Geneva, has opened its first ever Asian outpost in Hong Kong on Wyndham Street. The mastermind behind the pizza, Franco Pepe, was in town for the grand opening and we caught a moment with him to find out how it all started and what he’s got cooking in the oven.

 

Credits to photographer: Annie Yuen.

Why did you choose Hong Kong to open Kytaly?

This is the first Kytaly in Asia and we really feel Hong Kong is an important city to start our project and tell the people about the pizza we make. Actually, Hong Kong is very similar to New York, it’s very dynamic. I never thought I would be so impressed with a city, but Hong Kong has really managed to do that. It’s a city that anybody can live in. I need to be here some more days to explore the city though, and I want to come back and try some dim sum.

When did you start making pizzas?

I was born in a pizzeria. My father’s pizzeria was where the whole family lived and I was playing around in there from a young age. So I grew up in that pizzeria, and there, the energy was directed to me. After I studied, I became a teacher [for gymnastics], and then I would work at the pizzeria at night. When my father passed away, I decided to continue my father’s work. Then in 2012, I came away from my father’s pizzeria and opened my own [Pepe in Grani].

 

Franco Pepe in front of a vintage photo that illustrates his family who have been baking in Campania for three generations.

Making pizza has been passed down to you through generations. What traditions have you kept and will continue in the family?

I am the third generation pizzaiolo. First my grandfather, my father, and then me. And now there is going to be a fourth, my son Stefano. But without the teachings of my grandfather and father, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now. I take the techniques from the past, but I bring it forward and change it for the future of my pizzeria. This is the evolution of these pizzas.

As for what I’m passing down to my son, I have passed down how to make the dough by hand. Everything starts from the dough. But I also want to encourage creativity. I have advised my son, just like my grandfather and father did too, that he should bring his own pizzas and his own creativity to the table. He demonstrated this already by creating new recipes at my pizzeria.

 

The Margherita Sbagliata is Franco’s take on a classic and what he describes as the “best mistake” he ever made.

How are you taking pizza to the next level? Do you experiment?

We want people to see pizza in a new light, a healthier light. I am working with a nutritionist, so that all elements are calculated and are as healthy as possible. We want you to be able to eat pizza twice a week.

I do experiment, and it always starts from the produce. This is what I want to highlight. For example, with the Margherita Sbaglia [which is Pepe’s signature, also known as the mistaken Margherita, and an award-winning pizza], I wanted to highlight the Riccio tomato. My goal is for our guests to taste this tomato and feel something. So I have to find the best way to shine a light on this beautiful raw ingredient and that is where my recipes come from… in honour of the produce.    

What are the main components for a good pizza?

First and foremost, it’s the dough made by hand [created in limited amounts daily with a secret recipe consisting of 70% water]. Then it’s the transformation of the produce on the pizza. [By this] I mean taking a raw ingredient and elevating it. This could be through seasoning, or something, then it’s put on the pizza and baked. It’s been transformed and [therefore] transforms the pizza.

 

A slice of Franco Pepe’s pizza, made from dough that consists of 70% water, is light, airy and supple.

What’s your favourite pizza?

The calzone with curly escarole is my favourite. It’s a recipe from my father in the tradition of my grandparents before him. It’s a classic from Campania [with anchovies, capers, black olives and curly escarole encased in dough].

Are you working on any new pizzas now?

I am always working on pizzas and yes, we have three new pizzas coming out at Kytaly Hong Kong. The Grana Pepe Fantasie [a creamy cheese pizza with pecorino romano, egg yolk, bacon and lime zest], Pizze Fritte Ciro [deep fried pizza cone filled with a aged cheese cream pesto and black olives from Caiazzo] and a dessert pizza — the Pizza Fritta Crisommola. This one is like eating an apricot [with ricotta, lemon zest, toasted hazelnuts and dehydrated olives from Caiazzo].

 

Franco Pepe in Hong Kong during the opening of Kytaly. Credits to photographer: Annie Yuen.

Kytaly, 5/F, 77 Wyndham Street, Central; +852 2808 1961

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