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Archestratus was a poet and a Siceliota (an adjective that refers to the inhabitants of the Greek poleis of Sicily) who lived in the second half of the IV century BC. He knew very well what the perfect baker was like, and he described him in his poem Gastronomia, a precursor of the gourmet guides in which, as a great expert of the art of pleasure - he was considered a precursor of Epicurus- he described his quest for the best food and best wines.
Thousands of years later, Archestrato di Gela was not born from his ashes but is the name given to one of the most renowned restaurants in Palermo, seating on average 250 people every night, offering many options in terms of high quality contemporary pizza. Edoardo Chifari, the creator of the project and the patron, together with his wife Adriana and their children Pierangelo and Giordana, tells us how it all began:
«I’ve always been a lover of Greek culture and in the past I taught at the Academy of Fine Arts; one day, many years ago, I told my family that if I were to buy a restaurant, I would do it in honour of Archestratus, a Greek poet who in 300 B.C. moved to one of the most influential poleis of the Greek world and talked about wines, fish, and flour in his writing»
Then came the turning point: «I was researching flour and yeast, but the meeting with Molino Quaglia’s Petra was love at first sight. The brand had always impressed me in terms of marketing, but the result of the test made with my pizza was crucial and phenomenal. So I immediately began to use their flour». Since July 2018 the restaurant of the Chifari family is closed at lunchtime and in the evening only offers pizzas: there are around 20, and each one is named after a neighbourhood or a contradaof Gela.
From the simple Piano Mendola with pic pac tomato sauce, fresh oregano and basil, to the Neapolitan-looking Molino a Vento Dop with sauce of San Marzano Pdo tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala campana Pdo and basil; to the rich Ponte Olivo with a fresh sauce of date tomatoes, fiordilatte, fried aubergines, buffalo milk ricotta from Salerno, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano Pdo and basil, and the rich Piano Notaro with smoked buffalo milk mozzarella, Sicilian pig sausage, roast potatoes, onion from Tropea stewed in red wine, caciocavallo from Ragusa and parsley; Piano Marina is pure poetry, with olives from Gaeta Pdo, yellow and red date tomatoes, fiordilatte, anchovies from Cetara, heart of burrata, leaves of capers form Pantelleria Pdo, fresh oregano and black pepper.
Pierangelo Chifari, who recently completed his training at the Università della Pizza, explains his work philosophy:
«Conceiving a contemporary pizza means breaking the physical wall between pizza and kitchen, between oven and stoves. These two areas are no longer separated, but are joined because while we roll out the dough, they’re preparing the topping in the kitchen, which these days is more than a seasoning, it’s something more sophisticated. The concept of pizza has evolved».
And given that sometimes guests wait up to an hour to sit at one of the tables at Archestrato, one gets the idea that Palermo has fully understood and appreciates the work of Chifari, which is extremely innovative, economically risky, characterised by a process of study and research that escapes culinary banalities and commonplaces. Something very few people would dare to do in Southern Italy.
«We try to make use of the best products the earth can give us, we follow the seasons and we’re always looking for excellences, – Chifari continues – Pizza is an idea with a centennial history and in order to innovate you must study first: today’s results are also made possible by the evolution that mills have had in their research on wheat varieties, flour and blends, so as to improve digestibility. Choosing the right raw materials is crucial in terms of flavour and health, and then of course knowing how to use them is a matter of art». And finally: «Clients are satisfied when they can notice how the ingredients are genuine upon their first bite. This is what guests want, to be pampered, and to eat with relish».
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso