Pizza maestro shortage as young shun 'humiliating' job

By Nick Squires

Immigrants are producing an increasing share of the three billion pizzas that Italians eat each year. Photo / AP
Immigrants are producing an increasing share of the three billion pizzas that Italians eat each year. Photo / AP

There are few things more Italian than a freshly-baked pizza emerging from a wood-fired oven, but Italy is now facing an acute shortage of pizza makers.

Despite a long recession and high unemployment, Italians are shunning the job because of the long hours and modest pay.

But with a slice of pizza an increasingly popular lunchtime option in times of economic hardship, the pizza sector is booming - and an estimated 6000 new "pizzaioli" are needed, according to FIPE, an Italian business federation.

"Notwithstanding the economic crisis and unemployment, it is proving difficult to find them," the association said in a report released this week.

Italians may be reluctant to get their hands dirty by stoking ovens and kneading dough, but foreign immigrants have no such qualms and are now filling the gap, producing an increasing share of the three billion pizzas that Italians eat each year.

Egyptians have shown themselves to be particularly adept at mastering the art of the perfect pizza and now run many of the pizza restaurants and hole-in-the-wall takeaways in big cities like Rome, Milan and Turin.

"I would say about 80 per cent of Egyptians who come to work in Italy end up as pizza makers," Amadeo Al-Wikel, who emigrated from Cairo to Rome 12 years ago and now runs his own pizzeria on a street corner near Rome's Trevi Fountain, said.

"We are good at it because we are prepared to work hard. Italians, in contrast, want a nice comfortable office job where they can work six hours a day, five days a week, in air-conditioning. They're not prepared to work 10, 12 hours a day."

Alessandro Rossi, who runs another pizzeria in Rome, is surprised that Italians refuse to take up an occupation that is part of their cultural DNA, especially as unemployment among young people has reached 35 per cent.

"The Italian mindset is that being a pizza-maker is humiliating, it is a manual labour job. Young Italians want to own €40,000 ($60,000) cars and wear nice clothes but they are not prepared to work for it. So the gap is being filled by the Egyptians, the Filipinos and the Arabs."

They now play a key role in many of Italy's 25,000 pizzerias, with around 100 Egyptians training as pizzaioli every year.

David Mandolin, head of the Italian School for Pizza Makers, told Corriere della Sera: "To make a good pizza, it needs to be crunchy but also digestible. Not everyone can do that, but the Egyptians can."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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