Thom Elliot is co-founder of Pizza Pilgrims with his brother James. Before launching Pizza Pilgrims in 2013, they undertook a six-week pizza pilgrimage to Italy to learn all they could about pizza. They now have branches across London and in Brighton, Nottingham, Cambridge and Oxford. We spoke to Thom about all things pizza.
What is your first pizza memory?
For me, like so many others in the UK, my first pizza memory is going to Pizza Express with my parents. I can still taste the oregano on the Margherita – and of course Coca Cola in glass bottles. I still have a massive soft spot for Pizza Express – so a nostalgic taste for me.
What’s your regular order at Pizza Pilgrims?
I try and mix it up as much as possible but my stone cold favourite is a Salsiccia e Friarielli. It is a classic, Neapolitan white pizza with fennel sausage and wild broccoli and it is totally delicious!
What do you consider your most underrated menu item at Pizza Pilgrims?
It might just be the Salsiccia I mention above! But I think also picking a Margherita can often be a little “frowned upon” as a boring choice. I have to say I TOTALLY disagree. A Margherita is a perfect pizza, so can never be boring. It’s like when something gets described as “vanilla” in a derogatory way (as in not very exciting). There is a reason why vanilla is the number one Ice Cream flavour because done right it is the best! Just often it is not done right…
What do you consider the worst crime against pizza?
Hmm. I have to say the Pizza Hut NPD team have had some questionable output in the past. I think the one with little mini cheeseburgers for the crust might be the low point. I also personally do not want to see BBQ sauce on a pizza anytime soon (though appreciate I am outvoted in this…)
What’s the secret to making the perfect pizza?
It really is a combination of finding the best quality ingredients alongside the skill of the Pizzaiolo. Pizza done well is a strange balance of simplicity (in topping combinations) and complexity (in how to make a great pizza dough and cook it at high temperature to the right consistency). As much as people like to think making great pizza can be easy, it is a very very skilled endeavour.
What’s the best pizza you’ve ever had (not at Pizza Pilgrims!)?
I still think a Margherita at Da Michele in Naples is hard to beat. It was the first Neapolitan pizza we ever ate and still the one that sticks in the memory! We are lucky enough to know the guys at Da Michele pretty well now – and they even let us host a PP Pop Up in their iconic Napoli site on our recent 10th Birthday pilgrimage there. Quite an honour!
After Neapolitan-style pizza, what’s your favourite style of pizza?
I really love “al taglio” style pizza, almost like a tray-baked focaccia style with a really light base and lots of imaginative topping combinations. It’s famous particularly in Rome, and is served and paid for by weight.
What do you like to drink with pizza?
Pizza and beer really is a combination made in heaven. Unless you are under 18, then Coca Cola is hard to beat.
Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?
For me it is a no, but it’s the great unanswered question isn’t it? Franco Pepe is commonly regarded as one of the greatest pizza chefs in the world, and he has a pizza with pineapple on his menu, whereas some would say it is sacrilege. The debate rages on!
Pizza Pilgrims is celebrating its tenth birthday this year. What’s your proudest achievement?
As always, our proudest achievement is to do with the fantastic people we work with. Seeing young people join the company, often in their first job, and grow in experience and confidence through the ranks is the number one thing that gets me and James out of bed in the morning. To that end, our Academy in Camden is probably our greatest single achievement, as it is designed with this purpose expressly in mind.
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