Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 1: Bill and Matt Hutchinson of Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana

Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana 14028 Memorial Drive 713-855-0085

This is the first of a three-part Chef Chat series. Look for parts two and three in this same space Thursday and Friday.

Tucked away in the back of a nondescript strip mall at Memorial and Kirkwood is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall that churns out beautiful, thin-crust, Italian-style Napoletana pizza within 90 seconds. When you walk in for the first time, chances are you'll be greeted by Bill Hutchinson, who owns and runs the restaurant alongside his son, Matt, and his wife Gloria.

Bill is the certified master pie maker, while his son, Matt, actually makes the pies. We sat down for a chat with father and son to learn about what makes these pies so deliciously good.

EOW: So, y'all have been here for how long?

MH & BH: Eight months.

EOW: And what were you doing before this?

MH: I was in Atlanta at a portable storage company, and then I was also doing event stuff, like bartending, for a private club in Atlanta.

BH: I did corporate sales for a Fortune 500 company in Austin.

EOW: So tell me what made you decide to leave wherever you were to come here and work together as a family.

BH: Well, I really got tired of corporate life. It was time to find an alternate career. This is completely different. It was an opportunity for me to do something I had a real passion for.

EOW: So, are you a real pizza lover?

BH: No. I kind of fell in love with cooking pizza three years ago. It kind of developed from a need to build a backyard barbecue pit, a backyard brick oven; we were going to build an outdoor kitchen.

EOW: Why did you want a brick oven?

BH: I've spent most of my life in Texas, I like to barbecue, I have my own custom barbecue pit. The concept was, Gloria [Hutchinson's wife] would have her outdoor kitchen, and I really wanted to build a wood-burning oven. I thought I'd experiment with it and cook different things with it, but while we were were trying to figure out what kind of brick oven to build, the more research I did, I found that all you really do in a brick oven is cook pizzas, specifically Italian pizzas. So that led me to research Italian pizza cooking. I got so enthused that I imported flour from Italy and tested the pizza dough. And when we ate the first pie that came out of our oven, it was so different than what we were used to that we thought, "Hey, this may be an idea." I was looking for a way to get out of corporate America, and so the concept kind of stuck. Here's something creative, it's kind of fun, it's different, no one else is really doing it, and then I found out that you could go and become a certified master Italian pie chef.

EOW: And how do you do that?

BH: Well, there's an association called the VPN, or the Verace Pizza Napoletana organization, and I found out I could become this certified master pie chef, or Pizzaiuolo. So I said, "That's what I want to go do."

EOW: And where do you get that?

BH: There's two places you can do it: in Naples, Italy, or Marina del Rey, California, so I went to Marina del Rey. It made sense to do my certification there, so there'd be no language barrier, and so forth. It trains you on all the techniques for making authentic Napoletana pizza. There's a set of standards that you go by. You have to use a certain type of flour, certain ingredients, and they're very specific, and you're not to go outside of this set of specifications.

EOW: So you get the certification. What brings you to Houston and to this area? What's really great about this place is that you could just pass it, you wouldn't even find it. It's in the back of a strip mall, it's not even front-facing, and yet people have been finding their way here. So, why here?

BH: Originally, the plan was to launch in Austin. We looked at more than 300 or 400 pieces of property in Austin, but nothing really met the criteria we were looking for. And so, having grown up in Houston, I figured that the best thing to do was to go back to Houston.

EOW: What did you have to do to convince Matt to be a part of this?

MH: He just called me on the phone. He had been talking about pizza. He was just doing it as a hobby. He'd say, "Oh, I just got this flour from Italy. I just got these tomatoes, and they're unbelievable, amazing tomatoes." He's always cooked; he worked out of the house, and he'd cook dinner a lot, so cooking's not strange, he knew I liked food. I'd been looking to do my own thing, do my own business, and he knew that. So one day we were on the phone, and he said, "This whole pizza thing, I'd really like to do a place, but I really don't know much about the restaurant industry. You have the experience; would you interested?" The the more I looked into true Napoletana pizza, I was amazed, so I was like, "Okay, let's do it."

BH: Especially when you see the pizza is being cooked in 90 seconds. That's what really got my interest. No one's cooking pizza that fast. The average cook time for pizza is 10-12 minutes.

MH: And most pizza places you go to, there's just this white counter, where you go up and you order and 15 minutes later it comes out. There's no show, no artistry to it. And on YouTube, if you type in Napoletana pizza, there's these guys flipping dough, throwing them up in the air...

EOW: Do you actually do that here?

MH: Yeah, I do that. On Friday nights, I throw a couple of them every once in a while.

BH: Yes, we hand-stretch our dough. That's part of the requirement for being authentic Napoletana pizza. You must hand-stretch your dough. Everything I learned in school is what I perform here. We do it by the book; we strictly adhere to the VPN requirements.

Check back with us tomorrow as we continue our chat with the Hutchinsons.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham