Seeing as this blog seems to be turning into something of a mouthpiece (unpaid!) for Franco Manca promotion I would like to say that this will be my last post on the topic. But I have just learned their cookbook has been released recently, so that promise will most likely end up ringing hollow. There just seems to be so much to say! And I couldn’t let this experience pass without a write up.
Despite being very quietly advertised, I discovered that Franco Manca Chiswick hosts a pizza-making class once a month on a Monday evening. At only £20 for two and a half hours this seemed too good to be true! Surely they weren't going to hold the class in the middle of the busy restaurant? Maybe I could persuade them to give me some of their tasty-ass sourdough starter? So many questions!
But they did hold the class right in the middle of the restaurant, although it turns out the reason it’s held in Chiswick is because it is MUCH less busy than in Balham, my usual haunt. A few people didn’t turn up, so we were seven people, peering over the narrow marble counter surrounding the pizza production area, pens and paper in hand, dishes of starter set out for us to play with.
Franco Manca’s Executive Chef, Alfie, took us through the whole class, starting with how to prepare the dough. He was trying to pitch the class at the level of people who had never really made pizza at home before, but me and another guy who was attending – Niranjan from the US who was an even bigger pizza nerd than me (!) – managed to ramp the level right up to professional with our barrage of detailed, technical questions. All of which, I must say, were answered thoroughly and with patient magnanimity. Absolutely everything we asked was answered fully.
Alfie explained the entire dough-making process. The starter they use, what ratios to employ to revive it and storing excess in the fridge and freezer. The other ingredients and where to source them. The recipe they follow and how to adjust it for home-oven use. How to mix and knead the dough and the texture to aim for. The variables in weather and environment that can affect the dough and how to counteract them. And finally, how long and at what temperature to rise the dough and how to store any leftover for another bake day.
Next, shaping the dough. He both described and demonstrated various different techniques, detailed how much flour to use and what happens when you use too much. When we asked for further clarification he accommodatingly showed us again (and again if necessary), until we were confident and satisfied. He also told us how much topping they use and the soggy consequences of using too much as well as how to successfully move a topped pizza onto the peel.
Finally the oven. Although he did offer alternatives if you were unable to get the temperature of your home oven up enough, I have pretty much cracked using my home oven effectively (read about it here), so it was operating their wood-fired oven that I was really interested in. We were taken through the basics of cooking in a wood-fired oven – how to ensure the pizza cooks evenly and how to avoid burning it. This part was MUCH more complicated and skillful than I had previously given it credit for. Did you know that when you lift and turn the pizza to prevent it from burning on one side you have to return it to exactly the same place in the oven? That is really hard!
Then, at last, it was our turn! Each of us got to come behind the counter (in the middle of service!) and shape, top and bake our own pizza. The thrill of seeing the restaurant from that side of the counter, of playing with their materials and equipment and of using a real, molten-hot, wood-fired pizza oven was absolutely amazing. A joy made complete by stuffing my slightly misshapen, cheesy creation into my mouth straight after!
Having been a life-long enthusiast and read many books dedicated to pizza, I still learned loads of technical information in this class. At every point Alfie explained the why as well as the how – something I consider absolutely paramount in truly learning and understanding food and cooking. I left that class on a massive high, practically floating down the road on a bubble of happy, pizza-y joy, my brain awash with a trove of fantastic, detailed, technical pizza-crafting information.
And in case you’re wondering, I got their starter! My own tasty, healthy sourdough – Franco Manca flavoured – is on its way! Click here if you would like to see or buy the Franco Manca Cookbook.Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8747 4822
Time & Date: 4.30 – 7pm, second Monday of every month
Location: Franco Manca Chiswick
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