After almost a decade of selling some of Sydney’s best Neapolitan pizza, Gigi’s owner and pizzaiolo, Marco Mattino, has decided to take all animal products off the menu. Launching on September 23 Gigi’s is the first established Sydney restaurant to make the move.
“For me, it’s something that I have to do, whether I believe it's going to do well or not is not the issue. I don't think it’s right to use ingredients that are unethical.” Mattino has been vegetarian for years but he became vegan five months ago after he could no longer find a justification for eating dairy.
The menu itself hasn't be completely overhauled. Mattino is just making traditional Neapolitan pizzas without any cheese or meat. Crucially the dough, for which Gigi’s received accreditation from pizza’s highest authority, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), will stay the same.
The pizzas, which were usually topped with mozzarella or prosciutto, have been replaced by creative combinations Mattino and his team have been perfecting for months. “I believe the menu is a better menu. It will allow us to have different pizzas on our menu that you won't find at other pizzerias,” he says. Try roast potatoes with truffle paste, a gooey soft-roofed calzone with pumpkin or an astoundingly umami-rich pizza with ground yellow tomatoes and grilled asparagus. Restaurant manager, Lorenzo Petrachi tells us the savouriness and reduced acidity of the Pugliese yellow tomatoes reproduces a flavour similar to cheese.
There aren't many vegan cheese products – Mattino wants to keep the focus on fresh, natural produce. Instead he’s been furiously experimenting with different seed, nut and fruit products to find a natural replacement for the creaminess and umami flavour cheese provides. “People might think we changed overnight, not at all, it's a process that took a lot of hard work, a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge of food to be able to take this path,” says Petrachi.
One pizza that will certainly be staying is Gigi's traditional marinara, with tomato, oregano, and garlic. "The first pizza was the marinara. It was vegan. That's what people eat on the streets of Naples." For dessert you’re still be able to get Mattino’s Pastiera, a traditional Neapolitan ricotta cheesecake. The new variety, replacing ricotta and barley with cashew cream and walnuts, is arguably better than the original.
“People freak out when we say we're taking the meat and cheese off. ‘How's it going to be without those products?’ People just haven't thought about how many different combinations, and how many beautiful things, there are to use that don't derive from animals.” Mattino and Petrachi hope Gigi’s can be part of a wider cultural change towards ethical eating.
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