Wild flowers were in full bloom everywhere as Ginny and I arrived in Italy this May. Our initial days were slow paced, enjoying the beautiful countryside, fresh ricotta, and local wine (Cassavechia) provided by the gracious Lombardi family at Le Campestre, in Castel di Sasso.

We met the owners of Terre Principe, Manuella Pieancastelli and Pepe Mancini, from whom we buy wine at Franco Pepe’s Antica Osteria Pizzeria in Caiazzo for dinner. Franco’s crust is a work of art.

On a day trip, we ate warm bufala mozzarella fresh from its bath at Caseificio il Casolare in Alvignano. We toured La Reggia in nearby Casserta, the royal palace of the Bourbon King, Charles the Third. The palace dates back to the mid 1700’s and its splendor rivals Versailles in France. From the palace in Caserta one can take a 3 km walk along gently inclining formal pools. This passeggiata leads to a natural mountain waterfall that feeds the pools, which at its base is surrounded by sculptural fountains and lovely gardens.

In Napoli, we took an archeological and historical tour led by Domenico Mazzella, whom we have known for several years by way of his fabulous and centrally located B & B, Donna Regina. Domenico’s knowledge of art, architecture, archeology, philosophy, food, and wine is second to none. His B & B is filled with 20th century Neapolitan art, books, furnishings, and each room is uniquely designed.

The breakfast area looks onto a little school where you can hear the children sing and watch them at their morning lessons. Thanks again to Arthur Schwartz, the Food Maven, for telling us about Donna Regina when we were together at Tenuta Seliano in Paestum several years ago. For information on Arthur’s and Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli Barlatta’s cooking classes go to For a great local meal, try Osteria Pisano near the Duomo in Naples.

While I had a few specific pizza plans for this trip, a surprise encounter with Antimo Caputo at Antonio Starita’s pizzeria in Martedei upped the ante. I called Antimo just to say hello; twenty minutes later he zipped over on his motorino to make a special offer involving a very important food event.

Organized by celebrated chef Gennaro Esposito, whose Terre del Saracino in Vico Equenze is famous for its outstanding cuisine, his Festa a Vico has been drawing international attention for several years. Antimo’s invitation was for me to participate on the final day of the event for “La Pizza centimitro per centimitro, La Tradizione molecola a molecola.” Following the “90-starred chefs, 80 emerging chefs, 10,000 samples of signature cuisine, 200 wines,” the third day’s focus would be pizza and its craft. Without learning any more detail, I agreed! We all felt it would be a great opportunity--for all of us! We said goodbye to Antimo. Next stop: Palinuro in the Cilento.

I was excited to show Ginny (my wife and co-owner of Spacca Napoli) the Cilento. With Domenico’s house in Palinuro as a base, we shared its beautiful, magical mix of sea, mountains and valleys. Seafood, handmade pastas, grilled meats, local grains, vegetables and fruits, herbal digestivi, wild flowers, intimate towns, abandoned medieval villages, caves along the coast and its interiors, powerful storms, musica folklore; we drank in its many pleasures. (photos from Pranzo al villa balbi).

While dining with Cono at his agriturismo, we came up with a brilliant idea: to arrange a meeting between Cono to Liliana at Le Campestre. Cono and the Lombardi family are cut from the same cloth. Their celebration of the earth and its bounty and their joy in sharing it is inspiring. After seeing images of Le Campestre, Cono, a fellow shepherd and cheese maker, was game. Liliana was also interested.

Ginny has worked with a particular artistic form for several years while traveling. Its actualization in various landscape settings uses stones, driftwood, leaf matter, and spices. Ginny made one on the beach at Palinuro, using detritus washed ashore, in homage to Joseph Beuys, while I filmed the process.

Some of you who know Spacca may still not know that it was because of Ginny and her art that we lived in Italy. Ginny painted in Florence, I was a casalingo (househusband). Our daughter Sarah was our passport to good will. The years in Florence and the Gargano introduced us to a way of being and living, the generosity and kindness of which we have never forgotten. (Photos of pranzo al Palinuro) My mission is to offer it at Spacca Napoli, sharing it with my staff and the community, near and far, who supports us.

Watch She Wants to Know from Ginny Sykes on Vimeo.

In Palinuro we visited with another fantastic artisan! Franco Fucciolo has Pizzeria Med Farine Club, and is it worth the trip! We ate, and I made pizza with him. Each person brings their own approach to the craft of dough making, so each encounter is an opportunity to learn.

In Naples, Ginny made a ceramic relief sculpture. Domenico’s cousin, Laura has a studio near the B & B. Being with Laura and her two colleagues was a highlight.

After a little more time in Naples, we went to the Island of Capri where we hiked, watched sunsets, and ate more great fish at Il Cucciolo and Ristorante Lido del Faro. In the town of Anacapri is the lovely Chiesa San Michele built in 1719. Its stunning floor is made of hundreds of individually painted ceramic tiles. It is similar to the Cathedral in Otranto in Puglia. The theme of both is the Garden of Eden and the tree of life.

Back in Rome: with friends we took a misty four hour walk along the old Appian Way. Via Appia was constructed in the third century, connects Rome to Brindisi, and was the world’s first highway. It is evocative, alive with ruins, villas, and archeological sites. In Rome we tried this fantastic gelateria called Giolitti, which dates back to 1900.

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium is not to be missed. He is a master baker and pizza maker. Known in Rome as the Michelangelo of Pizza, his style is known as pizza al taglio.

Using the finest ingredients, his dough sometimes incorporates a sour dough starter said to date back to World War One. Impressive. He believes a pizza maker needs to start off under the tutelage of a baker; by learning how to make all types of bread and pastry, one is in a better position to decide which direction to take as a pizza maker. Gabrielle offers a class on bread making which I will take someday.

Ginny returned to Chicago, I to Naples for an interview with Professor Paolo Masi, Department Chair of the School of Agriculture, University of Naples, who is doing research on the science of flour. Just a few days before Ginny’s departure, I learned what the focus would be in Vico Equenze on the third day of the Festa A Vico: the art and science of pizza’s impasto (dough). Most people who eat pizza might think about its merits, but some of us truly get into the minutia of it. We wonder how the dough is made, how it is extended, how it is baked, how it performs, how it tastes, how digestible it is. This passionate obsession would fill the day’s event. Gennaro Esposito, with Molino Caputo and the University of Napoli “Frederico 11” created a program including six well-known and respected pizzaiuoli from Napoli and two stranieri (foreigners). The stranieri: Pasquale Makishima, Japan; and me--Jonathan Goldsmith, USA.

After the interview with Professor Masi at Molino Caputo, we went to Pizzeria Salvo in Portici, just outside of Naples. Salvatore Salvo, along with Salvatore Di Mattteo, Attilio Bachetti, Gino Sorbillo, Maria Cacialli, Raimondo La Mura and Pasquale Makishima, would also be interviewed. I have great respect for Salvatore and the pizza at Pizzeria Salvo. Its unique quality reminds me of the masterpieces Franco Pepe creates in Caiazzo. It is interesting to note that both he and Franco Pepe have wood burning ovens built by the same artisan, Stefano Ferrara.

I now had four days to myself before the event. By late evening, I was in Rodi. Sparta and Giovanni knew I was coming; the rest of the family did not. I have a habit of making surprise visits. My only agenda was to visit with the Albanos, enjoy the sunrise and sunset, early morning birds, some cacciocavallo cheese and a goccio or two of red wine.

After an early morning drive through Taurasi, Irpinia and Solopaca, I met up with Domenico and Cono in Caiazzo. We visited Franco Pepe at his new pizzeria, still under construction. There is always time for café and conversation. Cono held court, far from the Cilento. It was great! He and Franco discussed bread making as it was done years past and in previous generations.

I could see that Cono was doing OK, accordion in hand and that this trip was already worthwhile. At Le Campestre, everyone shared an afternoon of music, dance, food and wine. I documented this historic dialogue. Cheese, wine, grain, fruits, goats, sheep, memories past, new friendships, laughter, what more can you ask? (More videos from this trip).

Late Monday, Naples. For the event Wednesday, not only did I have to demonstrate my method of making dough, I had to make a Margherita pizza with it and present it alongside the masters from Naples and Pasquale Makishima of Japan. Though nervous, I was excited. With fresh whites and sneakers I arrived early a.m. Tuesday at pizzeria Di Matteo on Via Tribunale. Where better to make my dough? I planned to make a double rise, put it in the fridge, then bring it to temperatura ambiente (room temperature) for the following day. When I returned to Di Matteo that afternoon to form the pagnotti (dough balls), I was not certain I had judged accurately the existing temperature and humidity. Catching the dough on the rise is important. If it begins to descend, you have a problem. Though one of the veteran pizzaiuoli assured me that all was ok, I had my doubts. At Molino Caputo that evening I asked for a bag of flour.

We were on our way to Vico Equenze for a gala fundraiser on the beach. All the chefs were there, each presenting a special dish. With Vesuvio in the background, it was quite a night. Along with the flour, I had Domenico pick up a few grams of yeast from Di Matteo. I returned to Donna Regina soon after midnight and immediately began to measure out the flour on the tiniest of scales and mix the dough by hand . Though exhausted by the time I went to sleep, I now felt ready for the next day.

After introductions and academic presentations by Sig. La Maura (il padrone, Pizza A Metro, Vico Equenze), Gennaro Esposito, Antimo Caputo and Professors Paolo Masi and Luca Scalfi, we went to work. Esteemed members of the pizza community, assorted friends and an array of journalists were there. Along with the classic “Pizza Margherita”, “Pizza a Metro” and “Pizza Fritta” were presented. I was third in line, preceded by Attilio Bachetti and Salvatore Di Matteo; some act to follow. Gennaro was very kind, he checked in every once in a while to see if I was ok. Fortunately, all went well. My pizza looked good and I made a coherent presentation.

I was proud to work with the dough I had made by hand and that my passion for this craft was recognized. I was honored to participate and am thankful to Antimo Caputo for his confidence in me. Antimo summed up both the spirit and activity of the event with the following words which I quote at length in his Italian:

“Per la festa a Vico credo che la cosa più bella sia lo spirito conviviale e di festa che governa su tutto, e vedere lavorare tantissimi chef emergenti e stellati tutti insieme sia fantastico. Per la giornata della pizza credo insieme a Gennaro abbiamo iniziato a misurare centimetro per centimetro la tradizione camapana della pizza sia a metro che napoletana, importante è la necessità per noi tradizionalisti di misurarci con la scienza che ci inizia a spiegare del perché noi usiamo delle tecniche e non solo perché lo raccontano i nonni…

Questo credo che sia il vero passaggio importante, il contributo internazionale è stato fantastico perché vedere amici professionisti come te o il giapponese è la dimostrazione che la nostra tradizione ha trovato dei testimoni anche fuori e che se vi accompagnamo in questo percorso, insieme a voi e la scienza, che speriamo renda attuale e futuribile la nostra tradizione culinaria, faremo tanta strada insieme…”

For those who are non-Italian speaking, Antimo’s words express what transpired at the Festa: camaraderie, conviviality, and professional attention to the science, tradition, and techniques of Neapolitan pizza were initiated and demonstrated at the highest levels, while space was made for international practitioners to both embrace traditions and be embraced by them, and to chart future directions together. (Photos from Festa Vico 2012)

I have no doubt that all I have learned and experienced during my studies, observations, trials and errors, relationships with other pizza makers, and years thus far at Spacca Napoli came together in this event. To me, that’s the beauty of how the past and present come together every time in pizza.



What a great month so far. Here are some of the highlights. I spent three days in Las Vegas for the International Pizza Expo. What a show! 1,000 exhibitors, 6,000 attendees; that’s a lot of pizza! I was part of the Neapolitan contingent. A remarkable group, it included Fred Mortati and Carlo Orlando of Orlando Foods, the exclusive importers of Antico Molino Caputo flour and Accademia Barilla products, Antimo and Eugenio Caputo of Antico Molino Caputo flour, Peppe Miele of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, Sergio Piccu of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, Antonio Starita of Pizzeria Starita in Napoli, Ciro Cacace, Antonio’s pizzaiuolo of 44 years, and Adolfo Marletta of La Spaghetta Pizzeria in Vomero, which is in the hills just above Napoli.

Antonio, Ciro and Adolfo are considered by many to be among the greatest of today’s Neapolitan pizza makers. I have previously written of Antonio having had the honor of presenting a pizza to Pope John Paul at the time of the Jubileo. The three of them were in Las Vegas to demonstrate the Neapolitan style of making dough, extending and topping the pie, and working their magic in the oven. To say they were well received is an understatement. By the time I said my goodbyes to all of them, I was very sad.However, if you believe in the power of the Madonna, you may relate to what happened next, as illustrated by the following tale (and short digression), a story well know in the south of Italy and beyond.

This story has a mythic quality: a merchant from Constantinople was on his way to Venice by sea (circa 1453) with valuable cargo including a panel painting of the Madonna. A powerful storm blew the ship onto the rocky shores of the Adriatic to the Gargano in Puglia, southern Italy. The merchant made several more attempts to set sail for Venice, but each time his ship was blown back onto the rocky shores. It was believed to be a sign of her power, and that she was meant to stay there. The Madonna now sits in the Chiesa Madonna della Libera in Rodi Garganico, my beloved adopted home, an old sea town surrounded by olive and citrus fruit groves. Every summer in Rodi there is a grand festa with a re-enactment of this event.

Back to Las Vegas 2009 and the Neapolitani, who had left the Las Vegas Expo for Napoli with a connecting flight in Chicago. Around 9:30 Friday evening (Friday the 13th) I received a phone call from Antimo Caputo. Their plane for Rome had made an emergency landing back in Chicago due to smoke in the cabin. They needed to stay overnight, and would be stopping by Spacca Napoli! I was so excited, for a moment I forgot about the terror they must have just experienced.

Finally around midnight they arrived, by which time everyone else at Spacca had gone. After reviewing what had happened, we made foccacia and then toured our operation. Their pride in what we have accomplished made me very happy. Sergio made pasta all’amatriciana and we drank a Montepulciano di Abruzzo, one of the new additions to our wine list. Ginny, my wife and partner, and Henry, my principal pizzaiuolo, joined us, and as we shared food, wine and conversation, we thought of the Madonna della Libera, and how symbolic their return was of her story. Antonio Starita demonstrated his mastery for extending the dough, and the other pizzaiuoli discussed the fine points of proper formulas for making dough as the seasons change and temperature and humidity are factored in. All this well after midnight, and in Neapolitan dialect! Our goodbyes were at 2:00 in the morning. It was a surreal experience and I still am in heaven from it.


We just hosted a large event with ChicaGourmets, an exciting and very active culinary organization in Chicago. The event combined art and food culture beginning with a reception in Ginny’s Studio Rose with prosecco, Neapolitan treats, and live music by Victor Sanders. Our dinner featured six pizzas and some of our favorite appetizers. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to benefit the Cook Italy Educational Foundation. To cap off the evening, Chicago Magazine Food Editor Penny Pollack discussed her passionate love for pizza and signed her book EVERYBODY LOVES PIZZA which she co-authored with Jeff Ruby.

I am spending a few days in New York to visit with my daughter Sarah, who will return to the pizzeria for the summer after she graduates from Hampshire College. Of our family, Sarah is the one with the proper Italian pronunciation. We are having dinner at Peasant on Elizabeth Street and she is willing to indulge my wish to hang out with Roberto Caporuscio as he gets ready to open his pizzeria (Keste) and pizza school on Bleeker Street.

On March 29th I will join several outstanding local chefs to forage for ramps (allium tricoccum), also known as wild leeks or onions, and for which Chicago was originally named by the Potowatomi tribe (Checagou). Ramps are the first edible green to come up each spring. Kris and Marty Travis, the stewards of Spence Farm in central Illinois, are donating the ramps we find on their land to RampFest, an annual spring fundraiser for Land Connection, an organization dedicated to conserving farmland, training farmers and supporting local food systems. This year’s event will be at Garfield Park Conservatory and will be emceed by Tallgrass Beef rancher Bill Kurtis. All the chefs will be making special dishes utilizing the collected ramps. Mine will be one of my favorites from the Gargano, a stuffed focaccia with caramelized ramps and anchovies served alongside fresh burrata cheese, another Pugliese specialty. Visit for tickets and more information. I hope to see you there.