Paolo Crolla, owner and head chef of Paolo’s Italian in Galashiels, has been named the UK Pizza Chef of the Year in the prestigious Papa Awards.
Of course, being Italian, food has always been very much a big part of Paolo’s life. He learned his trade as a 14-year-old, making pizzas for his dad Gino at Crolla’s chip shop, also in Galashiels.
But it’s in 2015, the first full year since he opened his own restaurant in Overhaugh Street, that he has become known as a true star in the making, garnering no less than four national awards.
For the Papa awards, he had to come up with a pizza recipe with a difference.
We met up with him where it all started so he could recreate it.
He said: “I think the secret is in the special ingredients. I just started thinking what would go with what.
“I always handpress the pizza base. A lot of the pizza franchises will use a machine or a rolling pin, but I think it takes a lot of the air out of the pizza.
“I start with good quality buffalo mozzarella – and then I place ingredients I think goes with it.
Paolo tears off chunks of the creamy-looking cheese, before adding a surprise – Carciofi alla Romana – Roman artichokes.
“Artichoke is not a classic pizza ingredient, but I love it and I think it works really well here ... it also adds colour,” he said.
He goes on to add lumps of ’Nduja – a type of spreadable Italian spiced sausage, fresh basil – which he puts on all his pizzas, a sprinkling of grated parmesan, generous slices of prosciutto ham, dollops of passata and a dribbling of extra virgin olive oil.
He then puts his pizza straight into his dad’s stone-lined oven at 315°C for about five minutes.
Gino watched his son put his training to the test.
He said: “When I got Paolo to work for me, he was always pushing me to let him run the pizza section.
“He wasn’t at all interested in the chip shop.
“And now, he’s got his own restaurant, he is named pizza chef of the year, and I am a very proud father, I’m very happy for him.”
To enter the Papa Awards, Paolo had to send in the recipe of the pizza he wanted to cook.
That alone made it to the shortlist for the regional heat in Edinburgh, where he cooked it for the judges for the first time – who obviously loved it and sent him to the grand final in the Lancaster London Hotel last month.
Paolo said there was an early indication he was in with a chance – the four judges ate all of his pizza.
He said: “It took about five hours for the results to come through, but to win was fantastic.
“One of the judges gave me 10 out of 10, something he had never done before.”
Paolo’s other wins this year were for Scotland’s best Italian Cuisine (for which undercover judges arrived at the restaurant), Scotland’s best pasta dish at the Scottish Italian Awards in Glasgow and a highly sought-after quality approved plaque from Ospitalità Italiana.
And how did it taste? Check out the video above to find out!