Wednesday afternoon in the kitchen of Chi Spacca in Los Angeles, Franco Pepe, Italy's greatest pizzaiola, asked the staff where was his flour. Chef Ryan DeNicola, chef Joe Tagorda, and general manager Kim "G" Trac, all looked at each other and said "What flour?"
The saga of Franco Pepe's flour - aka farina - was on.
(For some background, Franco Pepe who we met at his Pepe in Grani pizzeria in Caiazzo, Campagna, was in California to do four pizza cooking demonstrations, two at A16 in San Francisco, two at Mozza, This guy is a fanatic, I mean an absolute nut, about his flour. It's his life. Thirteen hours before he cooks pizzas, he needs to work the flour into dough. The Mozza event, an instant sellout, was set for 1 p.m. Thursday in Chi Spacca. )
Ok, back to our saga .
About twenty minutes later, Nancy Silverton texted me. "Where are you', followed quickly by a "Call me Urgent" Now, in my interpretation of "Urgent" it's a shooting, an accident. an overdose, a death or at least something bad is about to happen. But, having been with Nancy Silverton for so long, her meaning of urgent and mine vary quite a bit. ( Here's my point. less than two minutes ago, she called the house,, this time she said "I've got a bigger problem than yesterday's". - dramatic pause - "I left my lipstick at home.")
So I call her. "We have a problem," Nancy says. "We might not be able to do the event. Franco Pepe is nauseous."
"Like sick?" What do you mean? Like nervous?"
"I need you to go to Rite Aid and get medication."
"What kind? What do I know about nauseous medication?" ( Of my many faults, nausea is not one of them.).
"Ask the pharmacist." She hangs up.
I go to Rite Aid, ask the pharmacist and get some Emetrol.
At Mozza I park in the alley and see Franco and his confidant Luigi. Franco is rubbing his stomach. I hand him the medication . He says. "They have lost my farina. I can't go on with this. We must go back to the Caiazzo. Back to Italy. Everything starts with the knowlege of flour."
Luigi, who speak fluent English. explains.somewhat. but is just as grave. "This is bad, We came to America for this."
I go up in the office. and the tension there is a like a command center for a Delta Force raid on ISIS in Ramadi. The voices are low in decibels, but high in urgency. The man who was supposed to pick up the specially delivered Italian flours at A16 had not picked it up. The flours, the farina. the only flour Franco Pepe would knead, two 25-kilogram bags, was 400 miles away and it was 5 p.m., The mission was clear, get 110.22 pounds of flour to Mozza by midnight.
Kate Green, Liz "Go Go" Hong, Nicole White, Sarah Clarke, and others i'm sure, go into action. with Nancy orchestrating. They find a delivery company that "might" be able to . but at $2,000 up front, "might" don't cut it. Go Go finds a company on line that will do it for $500. That turns out to be misleading. We think of who we know in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nicole says "Call you girlfriend Dominique." I do, in the long shot hope she is about to fly down, but she's at Atelier Crenn. We try storied former Pizzeria Manager Arielle Chernin, but she's out partying somewhere.
Meanwhile, in the Chi Spacca dining room, Franco's stomach has worsened. Everyone confers. "Go to you hotel and relax," I say. Nancy had arranged for him to stay at the W in Hollywood, while his two assistants and trip arranger Jonathan Goldsmith would stay at her house. But, Franco doesn't want to be apart from his team. .
He says something to Luigi. "We all need to be together now."
Kim get them an Uber and l meet them to the house. They sit nervously, refusing my offer of vino rosso. aqua frizzante, and Fritos (Original). They fidget. They tap their feet like their Philly Joe Jones backboning Coltrane.
Then, I turned on CNN. The Italians become riveted by the coverage of the latest ISIS shootouts in St. Denis. Paris. Of that woman who reportedly blows herself up. Of threats to Herald Square. Of lost loved ones. They seem to forget their flour problems in the real problems of the world.
I text Nancy and Kate Green a photo of them "Nothing like watching Isis to relax people." More texts, more calls. meanwhile, at A16, owner Shelley Lindgren is on it. She calling friends and employees. She knows the urgency having just seen Franco work his dough at her restaurant.
She calls a then-un-famous woman who will rise to the occasion. Shelley calls Emily Flannagan, who once worked at Pizzeria Mozza and is now at A16..
Emily, who like Brando, is now known by only using one name, was at home and about to start drinking wine.
"I was just about to have some wine and read a book about wine," said Emily, who clearly seems to have a fixation with wine.. "When Shelley asked me to help her and Franco and Nancy out, I thought, "Go to Mozza and see Nancy and Franco? Fuck, yeah."
Back here, we get the word a courier has been recruited. I tell Franco, he stands up and high fives me.
Still, it was nearing 8 p.m.
At the house, worn out by the ordeal, Franco and his two assistants. go upstairs and pass out.
At 10 p.m. i gather them up and we go to Osteria Mozza. We eat, but keep checking. "Where's my baby?" Franco asks often, referring to the flour. ."On the way". Who knows though. Maybe with the current state of security getting 110 pound of flour on an airplane will be a problem. I mean, I wouldn't let someone on a plane with a 110 pounds of flour.
Finally Kate Green texts. "The fuckin' flour is on the plane. I need a drink."
An hour later, Sarah informs us "The Flour has landed", Who is with it, i think. Neal Armstrong?
But, sure enough, just 'bout midnight. Emily Flannagan walks into Osteria Mozza. Franco Pepe gives her the hug of the week.