Hands on fire

How to keep traditions and stay relevant

One of the beauties of Italian culture, is it is so deeply steeped in history. Thousands of years of tradition have made Italy what it is today, and it is this history and tradition that serves as the backbone for the food that I make today.

Using techniques that have stood the test of time and ingredients that our ancestors would have used, the art of modern Italian cooking is a balancing act between staying true to tradition whilst also staying relevant.

When I look at my family’s home of Naples, the ability of restaurateurs to continually blend the tradition and history of the region’s food with modern day influences is nothing short of inspirational.

The commitment of the entire area and its people to preserving the heritage is one that I share, and strive to pass on through my own cooking. I try to bring the blend of new and old into my food. I work hard to keep tradition sacred, but just like they are doing in the kitchens of Naples, I experiment with new flavours and ways to keep those traditions relevant.

One of the main principles I stick to when creating Italian food is the idea of keeping it simple. Looking back on history and what my family has been making for decades, they have kept their flavours simple and fresh. Although I’m sure there was temptation to over-complicate things, they never did, and with that their food never faltered from being delicious. For that reason, this is a principle that I stay true to: it has allowed me to stick to tradition whilst experimenting with new flavour and ingredient combinations.

Another principle I insist on is the process at Gradi we create and work with the pizza dough by hand, as generations have done before us. While it could be simple to use newly created machines to do it, we stick to the traditional processes.

Whilst tradition will always be at the heart of what I do, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that modern technology and foods have helped me significantly. From our pizza to our pasta and gelato, we cook using a combination of traditional and modern techniques, and we combine traditional ingredients with new tastes.

Regardless of what food you make, or how you make it, it is paramount you stay relevant to those who will eat it if you want to remain successful. It is important to remember what makes your food unforgettable, but it is equally important that you don’t become forgettable because you are not keeping up with demand or competition.

Johnny Di Francesco
Known as “Mr Pizza”, Melbourne based Johnny Di Francesco is the head of Gradi Group and was named the best in the world at The 2014 World Pizza Championships in Napoli. Johnny’s passion for Italian cusine draws from traditional Neapolitan techniques, with his family originating from Naples. With a host of award wins and many successful restaurants under his belt, Johnny has established himself as a force to be reckoned with internationally. On invitation, Johnny represented his home country in several key pizza events. Judging and competing. Johnny has visited Paris, Las Vegas and Parma to share his expert knowledge and put his unique stamp on the international pizza domain. Culminating in his World Pizza Championship win, Johnny has gained national and international media attention, media coverage and recognition.
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