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Q & A with Motorino's Mathieu Palombino

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Mathieu Palombino isn’t your typical pizza chef, or as they say in
Italy, pizzaiolo.  He was born in Belgium and trained in
classical French cooking, the last guy you’d expect to find manning a
pizza oven.  But Palombino’s pizzerias have been earning rave reviews
since Motorino first opened in Brooklyn, followed a year later by
the equally as popular Motorino in the East Village.  He got his
feet wet at Bouley and BLT Fish before traveling to
Napoli & California to study the art of the pie.  “I wanted to cook
something wholesome, tasty & inexpensive,” he explains, so he opened
a pizzeria. “Pizzerias are almost as vital in America as they are in
Italy, so the artisanal pie craze had to happen,” he says.  But
what distinguishes his pies is the fresh buffalo
mozzarella imported from Italy weekly,
not to mention he inspects every bag of flour himself.

Married with a two-and-a-half year old son.

was your first job in school and what did you learn?

I was 14, I was  a banquet server
doing weddings, communions, and large dinners on the weekends. I learned
how to
make coffee for 500 people in a samovar, how to serve dinner under
porcelain, how
to cut large cakes and how to throw rice at married couples without

were born in Belgium and are a French-trained chef who worked at Bouley
and BLT
fish. So what made you want to open a pizzeria?
I wanted to serve something wholesome, tasty and
unpretentious, and all that at a price that would make everyone
comfortable. So
I knew that I was going to love making pizza.

did you learn to be a pizzaiola?
I went to Napoli and California to see how
other pizzaiolos were working, and I did gain some knowledge. But I
worked on
it myself until I knew exactly how I wanted the pizza to be like in
terms of
taste and structure.

your favorite pie on Motorino’s menu?
I like it with tomato sauce, pecorino and olive oil,
though that’s not actually on our
menu.  A pie with soppressata is also delicious.

the difference between the ovens at the Motorino in Williamsburg and the
one in
the East Village?
The oven in Brooklyn was made in the United
States from cast concrete stones.  The smaller oven we inherited in the
East Village was built by hand in Italy.  While they ultimately produce
the same results, the larger oven requires much more work and more

The appetizers often get overlooked in
the press. Any particular appetizers you want to highlight for us?
I think people go to Motorino for the pizza,
and I’m okay with that. But I really like the octopus salad. I find that
such a fascinating creature is a luxury.

What’s the secret to
achieving a bubbly, yet
crispy crust? Is it the wood burning oven or the flour?

of these variables are relevant, from inspecting each bag of flour that
to properly positioning the pizza in the oven.  Everything
has it’s importance. But what I can tell you about
is that the structure of the crust is really determined by what remains
the fresh dough after fermentation.

beers do you think pair best with the Margherita or Stracciatella pie
garlic and olive oil?
The Sixpoint Righteous Rye is great with
everything. With the Stracciatella, I would prefer to drink red wine.

do you get the buffalo you use for the Mozzarella di Bufala pie?

I get the buffalo mozzarella fresh – not frozen
or flash frozen – from Angelo Ranieri in Brooklyn.  He has it flown in
from Campania weekly and it arrives to us in Motorino right off the
plane from JFK.

do you think artisanal pizza has become such a nationwide craze?  Do you ever get tired of hearing about
all the new gourmet pizzeria popping up?
Pizzerias are almost as vital in America as
they are in Italy, so the artisanal pizza craze had to happen. Everyone
understands that eating what we like is even better when it’s made with
quality ingredients and serious craftsmanship.  That’s where it
It’s only natural that others will want to get in on a good
thing.   When
a guy like Paulie Gee quits his job at 54 to fulfill his dream of
opening a
pizzeria in Greenpoint, that’s something to respect, someone to root
for.  On
the other hand, when it comes to a media star opening a pizzeria five
times the
size of mine with the chairman of the Verace Pizza University as
consultant and the mayor of Napoli as the maitre’d just because it’s fun
now, I
just roll my eyes.

plans for a third Motorino or another type of restaurant?
I don’t know if there will be another Motorino;
I’m just not sure. I have menus that I’ve been working on for years –
things – and hopefully I’ll be able to see some of them to fruition.

other chefs and pizzaiolos do you go out with?
I don’t
go out with other chefs too much. I do meet David Malbequi for a
drink sometimes — he makes me laugh. And Marc Forgione. They are

Aside from your two restaurants, where
else do you
go for great Neapolitan-style pies in New York City? What about for good
New York slices?

I don’t go out to eat pizza
too much, but I liked Co. a lot. And a slice hot out of the oven at
on Bleeker is pretty good at 3 am.

Address: 349 East 12th St., btwn. First &
Second Aves.
Phone: (212)777-2644

Address: 319
Graham Ave., at Defoe St.
Phone: (718)599-8899

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