Neapolitan pizza is one of the most strictly regulated foods in the world. A Naples-based governing body called the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana dictates ingredients, size, and even cooking temperature of the small, crispy pies. Even the wood-burning brick ovens, which reach up to 1,000 degrees and can cook a pizza in less than a minute, must meet strict regulations. Some pizzaiolos here in New York even ship them from Naples–it’s common for pizzerias to dismantle their facades to install the specialty ovens.
So “mobile” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind where Neapolitan pies are concerned. Which hasn’t stopped San Francisco pizzaiolo Jon Darsky from putting one of the wood-fired ovens on wheels. His Del Popolo (“of the people”) is the first food truck to boast an authentic Neapolitan pie, thanks to the 5,000-pound wood-burning oven lodged in back of the specially fabricated truck bed.
Darsky, a native New Yorker, is an ex-baseball scout who fell into pie-making while pursuing a law degree in Brooklyn. In 2009, he rose to fame as pizzaiolo for Flour + Water, a San Francisco pizza shop crowned Best New Restaurant of 2010 by SFWeekly and raved about by The New York Times. More than a year and a half ago, Darsky started toying with the idea of opening up his own shop, and was drawn to the idea of the ubiquitous food truck. “I started with the idea that I wanted to use an unconventional appliance in a custom format, that would expand the idea of what mobile food can be,” he explains. Working with a Fresno engineer and a local designer, he envisioned a truck that could meet all the Neapolitan standards while hopping around the Bay Area.
Del Popolo is a food truck in name only–in reality, it’s more of an architectural intervention. The kitchen is built into a modified steel shipping container, rigged to the bed of a bobtail truck. One side of the container has been removed, replaced with wood-framed glass windows that swing open. In between the wheel beds, a step-down shelf lets Darsky talk to customers eye-to-eye. The oven, according to an anonymous pizza enthusiast, is “as legit as they come.” It was hand-built by Ferrara, the 100-year-old family company behind most of the Neapolitan brick ovens that exist outside of Italy. It can make up to 72 pizzas every hour, including beauties like the $12 mozzarella, braised rapini, spicy salami, red onion, chili oil pie. The truck’s branding, done by Mende Design, is a series of appropriately off-kilter circles that reference the shape of Neapolitan crusts, which tend to be oddly shaped.
Novel? Sure. But it’s also great to see a pizzaiolo breaking away from the famously slavish devotion to old-world tradition of Darsky’s peers. “For me, pizza making is a simple process incorporating flour, water, salt, wild yeast, whatever toppings you choose, and a hot oven. There is no magic, only ingredients, process, intention, attention, and technique,” he says. “I have a passion for process, and creating something that is delicious that I am proud to share with people.”