Sal Cusumano fell down the wormhole a few years ago.
The third generation of South Jersey pizzeria owners on both sides, he saw the pizza world paying more attention to detail.
“I wanted to make my pizza better and I knew I had to start with the dough,” he said recently beside the conveyor oven of My Angelo’s Pizza in a Berlin shopping center, one of his family’s three shops. He talked to his food distributor in 2017: Any suggestions to make it lighter and less filling?
Gregorio Fierro showed up.
Fierro, a jovial, bear of a man, is a pizza consultant. Fierro, 58, has had a hand in some of the region’s best-regarded pizza formulas, including Angelo’s in South Philadelphia, the Pizza Brain shops in Kensington and Brewerytown, Acqua e Farina in Newtown, and Pizzeria Nonna in Mount Airy.
You want a puffier outer crust on your rounds? A Neapolitan that doesn’t sag in the middle? Fierro shows pizza-makers how to fix it. When a shop owner wants a pizza with certain characteristics, Fierro said he goes to work as “kind of like a culinary translator.”
“They start out wanting a few tips and then they start to see the quality of the product improve,” Fierro said. “And then it’s, ‘Well, I could do this even better.” Down the wormhole they go.
And with the $40 billion business showing no sign of slowing down — and with more home bakers making the move to open their own shops — there is plenty of business out there.
”It was kind of a life-changing moment,” said Cusumano, 38. “The one thing I love about Gregorio is he’s a straight-shooter. He’s going to tell you if he likes it, he’s going to tell you if he hates it. And for me, that’s the best kind of criticism. I want something raw. I want something real.”
Fierro has been cooking since he was a kid in South Philadelphia. Along the way, including years of kitchen time in Italy, he has gleaned a scientist’s background in dough-making — how flour, water, yeast, and sometimes sugar…