January 19, 2012
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill, “Goodfellas”
Substitute “gangster” with “pizza virtuoso,” and you have the makings of a pizza school that happens to be named after Martin Scorsese’s 1990 Oscar-winning mob classic.
With a boisterous laugh and a passion for brick-oven pies, Cosentino, at the behest of his eager customers, opened his school to teach the tricks of the trade to anyone interested in the saucy industry.
Yet experts say pizza’s popularity may have seen better days.
In March 2011, Rmgt’s sister magazine QSR ran a feature about the decline of the pizza industry. With “Will the dough rise again?” stamped on the front cover, the story inside outlined how interest in pizza fell dramatically as Mexican, snack food, burgers, and chicken became favorites of the 2000s.
In the face of these statistics, Cosentino had no qualms about opening a pizza school last year. “I don’t see pizza slowing down… it’s a tough industry, tough business, [and] you have to be extremely dedicated and passionate. But despite economic [conditions], I see more and more pizzerias opening all the time.”
An International Pizza Champion with experience catering on the presidential yacht, Cosentino has been in the pizza industry for more than 20 years. He also constructs and sells brick ovens–a simple task that inadvertently created an educational cause.
“You would sell brick ovens, and these poor guys [that bought them], they didn’t even know how to make pizza, and they wanted to be in the pizza business!” Cosentino laughs.
“You see they’re struggling and ask you so many questions, [so you] say, ‘You know what? Let me just start a school and get out there and offer my assistance to people who want to go into the industry.’”
Cosentino did just that. His Pizza School of New York was in pilot testing for a year before his team took it full force this month. He says he’s been getting calls from all over the world, from China to New Zealand, to travel over and teach the ancient art of pizza assembly.
In New York, Cosentino’s Pizza School offers an array of courses to tempt anyone from a casual pizza maker to the full-fledged restaurant entrepreneur.
“It’s not just about opening up the dough, putting on the toppings, and saying, ‘This is the way you make it,’” Cosentino says. “It’s about mastering all the techniques.”
He offers these techniques in a basic, five-day pizza-making class; a ten-day master of operations class that teaches specific dough recipes, wood-fired training, and finance management; and through the consultation of menu engineering, restaurant design, equipment specifications, and even on-site opening assistance.
“Secrets, shmecrets,” he says about giving away his knowledge. “Even when you show people what to do, they always change it, and they always alter it. Which is a good thing. You want to put people on their own determinism and have their own creativity when they have their own business.”
Cosentino says demand from his students varies from breads to dessert pizzas, and the allure of the industry continues to entice apprentices to learn the craft.
“There’s some kind of romance to the restaurant business, and that’s why a lot of people come to me,” he says. “I show them everything. Once you learn all the basic fundamentals, the world is yours when it comes to pizza.”
By Sonya Chudgar