My most memorable meal: Thom and James Elliot AKA Pizza Pilgrims

Our most memorable meal would have to be at Da Michele – the famous pizzeria in Naples which has existed for almost 150 years. We visited during our 6 week Italian “Pizza Pilgrimage” (hence the name of the company) and this was our moment of realisation that there is so much more to pizza than meets the eye!
James looking a bit chuffed with his Da Michele pizza
Thom treating that box with some serious love and respect

We met up with two members of the Conduro family who run the place, including Luigi (pictured above all in white) who is the son of the eponymous Michele. He is a piece of pizza history.
The place is the definition of simplicity and quality from the decor to the menu. They only serve two types of pizza – the Margherita and the Marinara. Adding any other toppings is considered sacrilege!
This may seem a little over the top – but tasting the pizza it is hard to see how adding anything could improve it. The dough has an incredible sourdough flavour (they mix the left over dough from the day before into the next days batch to ensure a good balance of flavour and elasticity). We managed to get a ball of their dough to start off our own dough culture – which was a nice way to get started!
They only use San Marzano tomatoes grown in the foothills of Mt Vesuvius and fior di latte mozzarella – which provide the perfect balance of sweetness and milky flavour. We had never tasted anything like it.
The Marinara as well is a genius creation – and probably even more delicious than the margherita. So named because it was the food eaten by the fishermen (as opposed to a pizza with seafood on it) – it really is as simple as it gets. Tomato, oregano, garlic and olive oil. No cheese, I hear you cry! I can assure you, you don’t miss it.
We recently went back to Naples on a second pizza research trip. We went to the top 10 pizzerias in the city, and ate 30 pizzas in 48 hours. And we were really delighted that Da Michele still came up top as the best pizza available in Naples (if not the world)! Luigi – we salute you.
What’s that in the distance? A bright future in dough based products?
Pizza Pilgrims are brothers Thom and James Elliot who tired of their jobs and with the rough ideas of a street food venture, embarked on a culinary tour of Italy.  They bought a bottle green three wheeled Piaggio Ape for the journey and made their way, leisurely – the Ape has a top speed of 40mph,  around the country, visiting Italy’s most famous pizza chefs, gaining knowledge and recipes along the way.  On their return to England, full of inspiration, and pizza, they had the back of the Ape converted to include a gas or wood fired pizza oven, and so began the second phase of Pizza Pilgrims.
The brothers, along with their friend Louis Lillywhite, can be found cooking their Napoli inspired margarita and marinara pizzas, with a choice of other carefully chosen toppings too, at Berwick Street Market in Soho, London but the Ape is fired up for other events and some festivals too.
The pizzas, their simplicity and authenticity, they use Caputo 00 pizza flour from Naples, fior de latte mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes like Da Michele, have been received extremely well.  Street food, when it’s this good is becoming more and more influential and the future is looking good for Pizza Pilgrims. The brothers have written a book documenting the pizza pilgrimage; Pizza Pilgrims Cookery: Recipes from the Backstreets of Italy which is due for release in May but can be pre-ordered now.
As I was researching Pizza Pilgrims and reading some past interviews in the press with the brothers a huge advert for one of the big pizza delivery companies popped up in the sidebar recommending I try their new hot dog stuffed crust deep pan pizza.  With this reluctantly catching my eye, and turning my stomach, the difference in the two companies, selling a product with no more in common than a title, couldn’t be more pronounced.  It’s no wonder the queue at Berwick Street, come rain, snow or shine, is getting bigger.
For more information on upcoming events follow Pizza Pilgrims on Twitter and Facebook
You can see a little video of James and Thom’s trip to Da Michele here.

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