From 6 to 9 October, our technologist Gianni Calaon, 4 times world champion pizza chef, but also a lecturer, consultant and industrious entrepreneur, will be at the Padua TecnoBar&Food, in collaboration with Zanolli, at Stand 5H 293. For the occasion, we interviewed the man himself to reveal to you a few secrets of his energetic professional life. Don’t miss his live cooking shows!
It is no exaggeration to say that you are definitely multi-faceted. We would like to reflect on your experiences, in Italy and abroad, that can inspire the many professionals seeking to evolve.
Let’s start with the name of your restaurant in Padua: Rivoluzione Pizza. What do you mean by “Revolution”?
Gianni Calaon: “A pizzeria that offers gourmet pizza, but without the need for a pizza chef: our pizza bases enable this revolution. Of course, without compromising the use of quality filling ingredients and ensuring we have trained and reliable staff.”
In addition to your numerous individual successes, you have also won various awards with Team Penelope. Team work (or perhaps more accurately team “play”) is an important aspect of the Zanolli philosophy. How important is the “team” in your work (apart from Torino Football Club, which is number one)?
GC: “Exactly, Torino stands above them all! In my vision, a team has to be numerous and international. At the moment, there are only 5 of us, but my aim is to involve many more people, to establish a lasting bond with the businesses and partners I work with, without forgetting that all the members of a team are on the same level. Building a team in Italy only is difficult; I prefer to think big and always keep the same shirt.”
In Italy, you have successfully launched a kitchen for the production of high quality pizza bases. This is a great example of business diversification. Can you tell us something about this business?
GC: “My work leads me to travel a lot and experience many different realities. I slowly started to realize that the pizza base idea could be a suitable solution for various types of business (takeaway pizzerias, supermarkets …), I set up a workshop dedicated solely to producing pizza bases, and that includes a line of Zanolli Synthesis tunnel ovens. It was easy to propose the bases by visiting the companies that I represent. I produce bases with different types of dough and of different sizes. My customers value the quality and accept the price. I do not intend to sell cheaply just to get bigger numbers.”
In your opinion, is good business instinct innate or can it grow through nurture? What advice would you give to those not born with your same instinct? In addition to the experience gained and improved in the field, have you done any special training?
GC: “In my experience, I’d say that it grows through nurture! At the beginning of my career, I made loads of mistakes. What allowed me to grow was always paying attention to everything around me, wherever I was in the world. Fairs, events, visits … I always keep my eyes and nose wide open in search of inspiration. Of course, I followed all the training necessary, but experience in the field is essential, because you interact with everyday reality. Personally, I feel more at home behind a pizza worktop than a teacher’s desk.”
Now let’s tackle the complex topic of internationalization; in this case, your plan to open pizzerias in China. Given your frequent travels, we are curious to hear your impressions.
The “Gianni Calaon Pizza Champion” pizzerias in Wuhan – a “secondary” city of only 11 million inhabitants – have now been established successfully. These serve gourmet pizza with imported ingredients. How is the “gourmet” concept implemented in China? Is it easy to reproduce? Do you have to adapt to local tastes and prices?
GC: “Actually, with my partners, we have already established 4 pizzerias in Wuhan and we have plans to open other restaurants in nearby cities. Basic ingredients like tomato and mozzarella are imported. But in China, we find many other ingredients, such as meat and vegetables, which do not need to be imported. So we manage to offer a product that costs the same as it does in Italy, therefore relatively expensive in proportion, but that is often shared and consumed with other less expensive foods. Which makes the meal affordable. Our goal is to show Chinese consumers that pizza originally comes from Italy and not from America! We want to remove Pizza Hut from the local imagination, which is why we chose a food court in a shopping centre as our strategic location. And it works!”
When investing abroad, an adaptation process is always anticipated. How did you manage to make cultural differences with China profitable?
GC: “During my first 15 days in China, I travelled around the city to understand the culinary style, to absorb the local food culture to its fullest. I then added spicy ingredients, mushrooms, sausage, coriander to the menu in my pizzeria to test out and find a compromise with local tastes.”
In China (and not only) the so- called ‘关系 guanxi’ (preferential relationship, recommendation) is often crucial for success in new projects. Have you experienced this phenomenon? Based on your experience, does the “Italian system” work abroad? Have you found there is more solidarity or more competition?
GC: “The project we launched in China is growing in part thanks to my connections. In the same way as certain locations may prove more accessible thanks to the connections of my partners. I don’t know any Italians in Wuhan, so I can’t say whether there is a network in that city that forms a system.”
When you decide to take the road of internationalisation, the project must be researched meticulously. In your opinion, are there any basic elements that are likely to be underestimated? Did you find it easy to work together with Chinese partners? How far do you think it appropriate to go with the transfer of knowledge?
GC: “In my case, in China, I had to adapt to the equipment for producing pizza bases that I hadn’t been able to choose myself and that I’m worried won’t be very long lasting. The consumer outlook in China is different; there are lower demands with regard to sustainability. I think it is essential to have loyal and qualified personnel. The pizza chef in charge of the first pizzeria in Wuhan was really focused during all his training with me. He can now reproduce what I taught him to perfection. Really impressive. But I fear that if he had to invent something new or if he found himself in an unexpected situation, he wouldn’t know what to do. You can learn a technique, but not intuition; this must be taken into account. When we are called upon to pass on knowledge, and are paid for it, I think it is right and proper to do so, all the more so since it is know-how that stays in China.”
You have also understood the importance of a constant and updated presence on social networks. Do you think that the massive use of social networks and applications in China has contributed to the success of your pizzeria? Can it be a double-edged sword?
GC: “In the case of the Wuhan pizzeria, 80% of advertising was done via social networks. The impact of these strategies is undeniable. Wechat is truly amazing: the live shows that were organised to promote the pizzeria had something like 18 000 viewers! They also organized a promotional event where whoever took a picture with me outside of the pizzeria context got a free voucher. So far, I have not encountered any problems with the use of social networks.”
What other enterprises will you be cooking up in the future?
GC: “I definitely want to continue to travel the world and I’m working towards that. The vision that guides me is precisely that of creating a close-knit, numerous and certainly international team.”