Pizza Expo Podcast Episode 1: Chef Leo Spizzirri

September 01, 2021

Pizza Expo Podcast Episode 1: Chef Leo Spizzirri - Incredible Bags

[00:00:00.000] - Rev and Eric

We are back with another exciting episode of "Who's at Pizza Expo". We're in the Marqii Booth. Where Chef Leo Spizzirri is with us, joining us. How's it going? How's the expo?


[00:00:11.890] - Rev and Eric

He came pre-mic'd too.


[00:00:12.100] - Leo

Fantastic. This is to our feed, I got another camera behind, people following us around, but it's going awesome, man. I, you know...


[00:00:17.320] - Rev and Eric

Paul is dead, Paul is dead.


[00:00:19.620] - Leo

I keep saying, like, even though there's, it's a smaller show this year, it's really given us the opportunity to get more personal where, you know, like in 2019, I ended up doing 16 hour-long demos in three days, and had a whole crew, like, setting me up, knocking me down. All I was doing was changing microphones between the booths and this year it was, like, so nice to actually have that camaraderie and new people. And there so many new people in the industry here. And it's really awesome to see that.


[00:00:50.190] - Rev and Eric

You came out with a big announcement yesterday. You want to talk about that one?


[00:00:54.120] - Leo

Sure, so back in February, I departed ways. I was part of a culinary school in Chicago and parted ways with those guys, left them on you know, a good spot, and they're still doing their thing. But I took the last six months, and kind of really just said, what is the hole? Where do I need to be fitting into? And it was really apparent that there's so many people that are new startups, home pizza makers, using Oonis and all that. There's so many people looking for good information that sometimes it gets lost when you go on Google and YouTube and all that.


[00:01:29.940] - Leo

So I launched a brand new website called And right now it's just a splash page. Put your information in there, send me a question, and we're promoting them through my social media channels, which you can find at AskChefLeo. And it's pretty cool because it gives me this opportunity to kind of mix worlds. Sometimes I'm in front of professionals. Sometimes I'm in front of home bakers. And it's so cool to not only just talk about pizza, but to be able to talk about pastas and sauces and everything else that's in our world and make it make sense to the home consumer.


[00:02:05.970] - Leo

So the big announcement was really that. We're going to be very soon doing 90 Minutes Live classes that you can find a subject that you like, follow along. We'll send you the ingredients, do that whole thing. But then if you got some time in the middle of the night, you can't sleep. You can also go into the archive and watch these...


[00:02:23.830] - Rev and Eric

Oh, I thought you were saying Chef Leo will put you to sleep.


[00:02:26.920] - Leo

No, no I thought you were going to turn into something else. You know like...Chef Leo Cinemax or something.


[00:02:32.370] - Rev and Eric

I thought one of the cool things we had talked about before you made the announcement a couple of weeks ago, you said talking about doing, like putting together a menu or putting together an ingredient list for an item. But the ingredient list has a 50 pound bag of flour, but it also has the backyard Ooni guy, it's also got a 1lb bag of flour recipe for it, as well. You're going to do that, too, right?


[00:02:55.540] - Leo

Yeah. So this is something that became very obvious during the pandemic. I had a channel that was doing really well. And there were so many people saying, I work all in the metric system, I learned how to bake in Italy, and everything I do is in the metric system. So going to tell somebody to use a one kilo bag of flour, people that don't use the metric system that are Imperial measurements, saying, well, it's easy, it's 2.2 lbs. But we talk about that as like, hey, you should really be measuring in metric, because how do you tell an operator that's got maybe a dishwasher scaling out their gold formula to get ready to mix what .2 lbs is?


[00:03:33.330] - Leo

Right. So it's a lot easier to say 1000 grams than 2.2 lbs. So that was a big part of it. And then not everybody uses a full 50 pound bag of flour or 25 kilos of flour. How do we make this so that the home baker can say, "yeah, I got this bag of flour on Amazon and I can do it, too"? Exactly the same way. So it's testing all of these so that I know that these are foolproof formulas.


[00:03:58.140] - Leo

The best thing about baking at home is that you're going to impress your family and your friends. Right. We want you to be successful. We want you to learn from your failures. But then once you get that confidence and you're like, wow, this is pretty easy, I want to try something else. And I think that's how we're grooming the next generation coming into our industry. Everybody sat at home and zoomed everything. Right. And for the first time, you've got people who are attorneys and accountants and all this other things saying, I don't want to be stuck behind a desk for the rest of my life, I want to be working with my hands.


[00:04:28.870] - Rev and Eric

We've talked to several people in this booth, who pizza is not their full time gig, but they just fell in love with it and just started in the business of a food truck or a pop-up.


[00:04:37.150] - Leo



[00:04:38.490] - Rev and Eric

I was asking, how long have you been a part of the World Pizza Champions?


[00:04:41.580] - Leo

So I was in the very early days, the original five. The founding members were around.


[00:04:48.400] - Rev and Eric

The Detroit Red Wings , the St. Louis...


[00:04:53.020] - Leo

But at that time, it was Tony Gemignani, Siler Chapman, Michael Shepherd, Sean Brauser and I'm missing...Ken Bryant.


[00:05:04.660] - Rev and Eric

Yeah, yeah.


[00:05:05.440] - Leo

They were the original five. And as the team started growing and expanding, I actually met Tony for the first time here at Pizza Expo. And I was like, the Chicago Pizza Guy at a time when Chicago pizza wasn't even cool. Nobody wanted to know about it. Now tavern style has exploded. Everyone wants to do tavern style. But Tony really saw something in me. And he's like, you know, I think you should train up a little bit. There's more outside of Chicago than, you know about. And he actually sponsored me, and I went to one of his first classes.


[00:05:33.160] - Rev and Eric

Oh, wow.


[00:05:33.640] - Leo

And after his first class, we did so much stuff together, and he's like, man, it would be an honor if you would join my team. And I was just floored. Oh, I was so nervous because I only knew how to do Chicago pizza at that point. And it was because of him, as a mentor that said there's a school in Italy, and if you've got time, I'll help you get in there. You're gonna have to keep going back to Italy to train.


[00:05:56.040] - Leo

And I went back so much that I ended up getting a master certification, all five styles of pizza from Italy. And then in 2017, again, with the help of Tony, they were opening the instructors program. I got the call, and I went back and I passed that course. We're less than 100 master instructors in the world. And to say that it's a big responsibility.


[00:06:16.240] - Rev and Eric

I feel honored right now. We're like this guy is the master of 5 styles of pizza, I don't think I knew.


[00:06:20.440] - Leo

Well, you probably know a bunch of them. So think about it, so everyone knows Neopolitan. There's what's called pizza classica, which is the style, the round pizza that's not Neopolitan. We've got the original Sicilian, which would be called Pizza Intelli. In Rome, they've got the pizza alla pala, which is the three foot meter long pizza. And then they've got senza gluten, which is Gluten free. And all five of those. I had four forever. And the one I always said that I didn't care about was the gluten free. I said I was a master in things with Gluten. I could care less...


[00:06:54.250] - Rev and Eric

He clearly likes gluten.


[00:06:56.140] - Leo

I clearly, you can see. I love it, gluten. But you know again, it was at that point that a good friend of mine ended up becoming truly Celiac. And I said, you know, I'm going to take this more serious. I went back to Italy. I got my Masters in that as well, and did a lot of great stuff here in the States promoting people that are truly coeliac or gluten intolerant and turned it into that. So, those are the five styles.


[00:07:16.540] - Rev and Eric

I wanted to...this Detroit boy is a little upset right now but...


[00:07:19.630] - Leo

Well, all those styles in the United States. This is where it's so classic, because you have these five styles that all immigrated to the States on their own. And then as you went into all these different regions, these mom and pop places that were immigrants from Italy ended up, let's say, for example, in Detroit, where  did that start? That was a pan pizza close up, maybe focaccia-like, that borderlined on a Sicilian from the East Coast. And it evolved into Detroit because of the pan, the way the cheese was and it caramelized. So, every style of pizza that we have in the States, we can 100% track down to one of those 5 styles.


[00:07:57.060] - Rev and Eric

I think we need to create a graphic, like the Pizza tree.


[00:07:59.940] - Leo

Yeah, that's cool!


[00:08:01.080] - Rev and Eric

I wanted to take that World Pizza Champion question a little farther, because I talked to you a couple of weeks ago for an hour on the phone, and I walked away from that call thinking of that group of the World Pizza Champions and not to slight anyone else, I don't mean it this way. But you're probably the most educated. Is that a fair statement?


[00:08:19.870] - Leo

Yeah. You know what it is? It's education but there's a lot of guys that do what I do. And back in the day when Tony really first brought me aboard and I got to make really good friends with them over the years. The thing about Tony was that it was, it was the first time that, especially being a guy from Chicago, it wasn't about keeping secrets, right? In Chicago, like man, god forbid you tell somebody your dough formula, right? You don't want the next guy to have any more knowledge because you don't want him to surpass you, right?


[00:08:47.550] - Leo

And it was that first time. It's like, what's the use of having all this knowledge if someday I'm going to be in a box and it's going to be gone, right? Who are we passing this to?


[00:08:55.890] - Rev and Eric

Not a pizza box.


[00:08:56.590] - Leo

It's going to be a big freaking pizza box.


[00:08:57.670] - Rev and Eric

We're going to put a Perfect Crust pizza liner under this guy, too. Do you have coffin shaped liners? We're going to make one for Leo.


[00:09:05.800] - Leo

I'll lay on it for Halloween, it'll be our thing. But you know, it was really that , like there's no secrets. The industry is going to be better if we do, take away these dividing lines. It wasn't about pizza teams anymore and this team and that team, it was really about the industry and the camaraderie and the family. Right. We talk about the Brotherhood all the time. You know, Tony is really big with respect the craft. It is a craft. We wear these red neckerchiefs. Not because I love a good neckerchief, it's really talking about our origins. Where we came from, right?


[00:09:35.580] - Leo

That's what we're trying to respect. Traditions that go back 300 years. Who am I to change it? But I want to be that person carrying the torch over the bridge to give it to the next guy to go forward.


[00:09:47.970] - Rev and Eric

Answer me this question. Hotly debated, right? Pizza is a cult, pizza is a culture, pizza is a community. Why isn't like hamburgers not that? Why is seafood not like that? Why is it really just like, pizza?


[00:09:59.940] - Leo

You know, I think that to me, pizza is very approachable. No matter what kind of pizza you like, you can go to anybody in the world. So what's your favorite pizza? And they're going to spit something out. You might have never heard of the pizza place before, but they're probably like I love a pepperoni or I love this, whatever it might be. But I think that's why it is like this. And it's gotten so big because, again, people love to talk about it. It's easy to talk about. It's great to be able to sit around a pizza box or a pizza at the table, right?


[00:10:31.240] - Leo

And then what happens around me right? We have a, you know we're here at Pizza Expo, right? And in the competition, there's an award called the Pat Bruno Award. Pat Bruno, back in the day, was one of the food writers for one of the Chicago newspapers. And he became really big in the industry as not only a critic but one of those people that was always talking about people getting back to the table and eating together and sharing a meal. And when he passed away in this big eulogy that they did, one of his quotes that he said was that, "there's no sadness around pizza".


[00:11:11.250] - Leo

You sit around a pizza box, and all of a sudden people are happy. They're smiling. And that's something that stuck with me. He's been gone for awhile, and we still honor him with this award for the pizza makers. But that was again, the perfect thing that they could say. That why it's like that, because I think that people are just happy standing, sitting around a pizza.


[00:11:27.880] - Rev and Eric

To answer your question, from my standpoint, I heard John Arena a year ago talk about the reason why pizza is that way and burgers aren't. Pizza's communal. We can sit down and we can split a pizza and you can get half your half and I can get my half. And we're still eating together, right? And a burger is not that way. And I think that's some of it, I guess. We've been asking everybody, there's a lot of plant based toppings here. What do you see that? Where does that fit in the industry right now?


[00:11:57.490] - Leo

You know, I think that it's one of those, like when it started out it was kind of like the joke about pineapple. And you either like pineapple on a pizza or you don't agree that it should be on there and all that. But I think that it's one of those sectors in our industry that, it's a real thing. And I think that if you're going to put a line in the sand and say, no, I'm not going to be part of that, let's say, evolution into our industry. I think you're really losing out because there are so many people that are vegan or that choose to live a dairy free diet or whatever it is.


[00:12:32.650] - Leo

So this whole evolution of plant based products has gotten so much better. I worked with a couple of different big companies, I'm working on not only just pepperoni, but things like chorizo and all these plant based different items. And when you taste these things and you see how they cook, it's like man, they got so close, somebody who's not eating meat, right, will eat some of these products and say man, this is the first time I'm eating pepperoni in how long and it actually tastes good. Right. So to me, I think that, I have five restaurants in Chicago. And what we're doing over there, it's like we've embraced it.


[00:13:11.140] - Leo

Yeah, we're bringing in vegan cheese, and we're bringing in vegan pepperoni. We've gotten really close with the Happy Plant people, which is one of the big pepperonis that just came out. And they do a really beautiful job. And to say that there's no meat in it, it all comes from plants. That's a pretty amazing thing.


[00:13:28.420] - Rev and Eric

When you add something like that to your menu. It's not like we have green peppers, again. It's a big deal, right? How do you get the word out of that to your current guests? How do you market it?


[00:13:39.700] - Leo

I would say the trick even when we got into starting to do gluten free. Gluten free was really taboo for a while, and there wasn't a lot of pizzerias that were doing it. But one of the things in my consulting world was going to these operators saying, look, do you want to add gluten free to the menu? Don't do it every day. Pick one of your off days, a Tuesday, right? And make that gluten free day. Could be pasta, it could be pizza, whatever, but kind of corral everybody in, so you can do it well, you don't have to spread it in over a week, do it really well. Build a following.


[00:14:12.580] - Leo

And if it makes sense, now you're packing Tuesdays as a gluten free day, then go ahead and say, well, I'm going to expand it now to two days a week or whatever. And I think that the vegan thing could work the same way. But in my opinion, just knowing what I'm seeing in the industry, I think there's enough people that are searching for those types of pizzas and products that it won't take long. You put it on your menu. It stores really well because it's plant based. So the shelf life is good on it. A lot of those things you can actually freeze and that sort of thing, so you can put a pizza together, and it'll be really good.


[00:14:54.160] - Rev and Eric

We're almost done. I have one last question for you. Alive or dead. Who would you like to cook for?


[00:14:59.940] - Leo

Uh, Julia Child.


[00:15:01.140] - Rev and Eric

Interesting. I love it.


[00:15:02.200] - Rev and Eric

You didn't answer that, what's your answer? Alive or dead.


[00:15:04.360] - Rev and Eric

Who would I cook for? I don't know. I'm not a big cook, something I would never really think about.


[00:15:09.490] - Rev and Eric

You know who I'd love to meet alive or dead? I'd love to meet Benjamin Franklin. I've always thought that cool cat did a lot of cool stuff, invented a lot of cool. That'd be a cool dude to hangout. That would be cool. And he liked to make beer so that's somebody I want to hang out with. There you go. There you go. Awesome.


[00:15:23.080] - Rev and Eric

Chef Leo Spizzirri, thank you. So the website is what, again?


[00:15:26.530] - Leo Or you can follow me on social media at AskChefLeo.


[00:15:30.880] - Rev and Eric

Yes and by the way, he's sampling Perfect Crust pizza liners right now. Lee Hunsinger is here. He should use them, right?


[00:15:36.900] - Rev and Eric

Yeah, definitely.


[00:15:38.460] - Rev and Eric

Good to see you, thank you so much.


[00:15:39.070] - Leo

Thank you for having me tell everybody thank you.