“Italians have a saying: Pizza is good toppings on a good bread. I went to Italy for two months, immersing myself into the pizza culture,” says Gilbert Ngigi, popular to many as Chef Caputo of 360 Degrees Artisan Pizza, as we settle in for a session at the new branch in Rosslyn Riviera Mall.
“Some people say that Naples, Italy, has the best pizza, but I believe mine is even better,” laughs Chef Caputo. There is no question the restaurant, which offers a unique upscale casual dining experience, revolves around him, and we soon learn that he has trained all the staff working at the establishment.
360 Degrees Artisan Pizza is named after the nature of their pizza, which is cooked at above 360 degrees Celsius. The restaurant, which opened its doors in 2013 at ABC Place, Waiyaki Way, now has its second branch at the vibrant Rosslyn Riviera Mall along Limuru Road.
While their pizza pays homage to old world Vera Pizza Napoletana traditions, it has a contemporary take on the style. “The biggest difference between our pizza and the mainstream ones is that ours is handmade. In fact, it arrives still steaming from our Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven. The crust is thin, with a blistered cornicione – the raised rim of the pizza that’s the outer crust – about an inch thick. It is neither thin and crispy nor thick and soft, but chewy and crusty all at once. Because it is handcrafted, no two are exactly alike. The toppings are fresh and natural, with each ingredient tasting very much like what it is. Our pizza strikes a careful balance between crust, sauce, and cheese, with not too much of any one component,” shares Chef Caputo as he cleans the oven.
“What’s our secret?” he poses then continues: “‘00’ Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes imported straight from Italy, combined with fresh ingredients to form a beautiful pizza that is cooked at over 360 degrees Celsius. The oven takes about two hours before it gets to the right temperature. While it cooks at 360, I like cooking pizzas at about 390 to 490 degrees. One of my teachers taught me the best way to make pizza is to not cook it for more than two minutes. So, my rule is minimum 45 seconds and maximum, 90 seconds.”
360 Degrees menu has 24 different pizzas. They make their pizza dough using the Caputo flour. “I became so good with the flour, thus landing my nickname,” explains the chef.
We get started on the day’s business. “Today, we’ll make two pizzas: A classic pizza and a signature one. I’ll do a classic margherita and the signature, memphis chicken, which is one of our best selling pizzas. For the margherita, we’ll start with the tomato base sauce at the bottom and mozzarella cheese. We have about six different types of sauces and 13 different kinds of cheese, but we’ll use one that is very special, the mozzarella di bufala. It’s a killer to any Italian. We’ll use San Marzano tomatoes, which are naturally grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. We’ll get them straight from the tin and blend them. They make one of my best soups, San Marzano tomato soup,” he tells us.