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July 17, 2009

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Mama Mia! Champion pizza chef spins his dough at Favola

HE swirls and he twirls the flying saucer of white pastry. He tosses and catches and flips the dough until it's the perfect texture and thickness. He's Francesco Sanna, the new master pizza chef spinning his craft into the flagship Italian restaurant of a leading Shanghai five-star hotel.

The Grand Champion of the 1999 European Pizza Competition in Genova City, Sanna has 13 years of talent and rich experience that he's brought to Le Royal Meridian Shanghai's Favola Italian restaurant.

He has honed his pizza-making throughout a long career in top-class Italian restaurants in Trento and Verona and comes to Shanghai directly from the Marriott Chalets Hotel's five-star property in Mumbai.

And now he's the leading man and the master of the wood fire domain, in a shift in focus at Favola that involves him not only working with customers on fashioning pizzas to meet their individual dining needs but also giving pizza cooking classes.

"We're trying to maximize our unique selling point in the restaurant. Our wood-fired pizza oven in the open, show kitchen gives uniquely different flavors opposed to standard gas ovens," says Silvio Autuori, the hotel's executive assistant manager for food and beverage.

"Not many hotels have this asset, which is why we brought in Francesco," says Autuori who has brainstormed the restaurant's new pizza and pasta focus with restaurant manager Erik Theeuwes.

"We're trying to do something different here, a new age kind of pizza, like one we have today, which is made of pears and gorgonzola. We're also incorporating into our new menus dessert pizzas, which are very thin with caramelized fruit and vanilla sauces."

For the uninitiated, the simple pizza is not so apparently ... well, simple. It starts with the quality of the dough that provides the base and this is where Sanna's attention to detail is what Favola hopes will set it apart from other pizza joints. The master pizza chef focuses on flour selection and the quality of the water used to make the dough. Then there's the wood-fired oven temperatures that need delicate control.

Ample options

"It has always been a challenge to make a simple pizza perfectly. Details really make the difference," he says.

Favola's new pizza range, which retains the traditional styles but introduces some new twists, has already been a hit with customers who can choose from an impressive but thankfully constrained pizza/pasta menu.

The Romana, Margherita and Capricciosa will be safe choices but there are ample options for those looking to sample Sanna's European style with a Shanghai twist.

The Chashao pizza with tomato, mozzarella cheese and roast pork loin evokes the spirit of the traditional spiced honey roast pork with a cha shao pork. The "Sichuannes" pizza has a familiar spicy bite, with its chicken on a tomato and mozzarella base livened with green pepper and Sichuan pepper.

The master pizza chef's innovations are found in his "Bianca al Pesto" pizza, with Asian pesto sauce and mozzarella, and the teriyaki pizza, with mozzarella, teriyaki eel and enoki mushroom.

The pizza categories of traditional, Oriental, innovation and taste of discovery are twinned with pasta dish options that are equally tantalizing. There's a set per person price of 138 yuan (US$20) plus 15 percent, which includes free-flow soft drinks, coffee or tea, and an additional 25 yuan per person for free-flow local beer.

Favola is being generous with Sanna's skills and starting from today he will conduct pizza cooking lessons every Friday from 12pm to 2:30pm. Priced at 350 yuan per person, the culinary class teaches the "tricks of the trade," followed by lunch to sample their new creations.

"Francesco will be at front of house as much as possible, not a chef who will stay in the kitchen," says manager Theeuwes, adding that his skills also extend to working on Sundays with a special focus to provide pizzas in animal shapes for the children of guests.

"There aren't a lot of restaurants in Shanghai with such an experienced pizza chef working the traditional Italian way of throwing the pizza in the air," he says.

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