This is Sei Shiroma.
I first heard from Sei through an email I received a year or so ago. Back then he was living in New York, working in advertising and planning a move to Rio. Today he is a food obsessed gringo, living in Rio and married to a carioca (sound familiar?). He is also something of an inspiration.
Back in his NYC days, Sei cunningly manoeuvred his way out of a less than fulfilling day job and into the wonderful world of Neapolitan Pizzas, first working on a food truck and later working in a successful Brooklyn restaurant. As he learned his skills, he progressed from enthusiastic novice to seasoned pro.
What is Neapolitan Pizza?
Neapolitan Pizza is made with super-fine, high-protein flour; San Marzano tomatoes (grown at the foot of Mt Vesuvius) and Fior di Latte (a cow’s milk mozzarella with a bright milk taste with a clean finish). When it comes out of the oven, the pizza is finished with extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Sei goes on to explain: “The pizza dough is by far the most labour-intensive part of the process and is what makes these pizzas so special. The dough has just four ingredients (flour, water, fresh yeast, salt) and is hand mixed. It rises for 3 days in the fridge to develop a depth in flavour and to achieve greater aeration.”
The pizza cooks in a high-heat oven at around 450°C (850°F) and develops little black blisters, known as cornicione, that fleck the border of the pizza.
According to Sei, “the finished result is a meeting of the savoury sauce, creamy cheese, ever-so-slightly sour and smoky dough, cut by the sweet basil, all swirling on the palette to give a sensation that I describe in a single word: ‘Damn!’”
Here’s a video that shows the process from start to finish and should get your mouth watering.
Ferro e Farinha
In 2011, in a twist of fate that I can relate to, Sei’s life was changed when he met a girl from Rio. They decided to move to Rio and start a Neapolitan pizza food truck business!
When Sei originally contacted me, it had been to ask for advice on some aspects of moving to Rio. We corresponded for a while and then things went quiet. 6 months passed and then, out of the blue, I heard from him again – he had made it to Rio!
We met up and, over a few too many beers, compared notes on everything from our views on the food culture of Rio to our plans for the future. On this latter subject, Sei impressed me with the scale of his ambition – along with all the usual challenges of moving to Rio, he had also commissioned the construction of a mobile pizza oven capable of achieving the blisteringly high temperatures required for Neapolitan pizza. Now he was about to embark on the next step – Ferro e Farinha.
Food Trucks in Rio?
Ferro e Farinha, the title that Sei chose for his nascent business, means ‘Iron and Flour’ and I was lucky enough to be there on his opening night. On a quiet street in the Zona Norte neighbourhood of Grajaú, Sei, Daniela and their assistant Thiago knocked out dozens of delicious pizzas to a small group of friends and some curious passers by.
The people who just happened to be passing by were fascinated and asked a lot of questions. Why was the oven on wheels? Would he be coming back to the same spot next week? Why wasn’t there any ketchup or mayonnaise? (just kidding with that last one, though Cariocas know what I’m talking about – hang your heads in shame!).
I suspect that one of Sei’s biggest challenges will be explaining the concept of a food truck to Cariocas. The Ferro e Farinha pizza oven will rove around Rio, serving up great pizza and winning fans who will follow its progress and track it down through social media.
Having tasted the results of Sei and Daniela’s hard work, I believe they will be a huge success. If you’re in Rio and want how good real pizza can get, use the links below to connect and find out when and where they’ll show up next!