Pizza talk with Afrique's Miguel Cordova

What makes a certain pizza stand out from the others?
First is the crust, according to Miguel Cordova, chef and owner of Afrique’s which has branches in Jaro, Smallville, Valeria and Robinsons Place Iloilo. “Making a pizza crust is a hit-and-miss experience until you get it right,” he adds.
Afrique’s has two kinds of pizza crust – regular and thin. Cordova is now experimenting on the perfect thick crust which will be launched to the public on September.
A pizza crust is made of yeast, sugar, salt and oil. “It’s the oil that makes the crust crunchy,” Cordova said.
The second element of a good pizza is the combination of ingredients. “Your toppings have to blend well. There are pizza combinations that are loaded with toppings but they don’t taste so good,” he said. He added that the ingredients have to be well-seasoned, too.
Afrique’s has created varied pizza combinations to the delight of its habituĂ©s. Taste is relative, after all. And for Cordova, nothing beats the Neopolitan combination of cheese, tomato and basil. “The simpler, the better it is for me,” he said of his comfort food.
The third element is the sauce. “You can easily buy this in grocery stores. But if you want it to be authentic, use crushed tomatoes, season it and spread it on the crust,” he advised.
The fourth element is the cheese. A pizza eating experience is not complete without the dairy or creamy touch to it. “It’s good to have mozzarella cheese because it’s stringy,” Cordova said.
Afrique’s is famous for its cheese, which we sometimes call as “cream cheese” because of its lighter color and soft texture. “We use mozzarella apart from our Afrique’s cheese,” he said.
The fifth element is the baking process. At Afrique’s, baking time takes 15 to 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 425 C. They use the conventional pizza oven but Cordova altered it so it would produce their desired quality.
There are other ovens like the brick oven and the conveyor belt, said Cordova. He said that big pizza companies use conveyor belts which cook the pizza in just five minutes. But nothing beats the brick oven, he said. In a brick oven, heat is applied alongside the food to be cooked. The brick absorbs the heat and then distributes this throughout the oven.
Cordova added that their pizza is placed on a perforated pizza pan. “There are some that use a cookware with screen, the pizza stone and some just grill it.”
So, once it’s cooked, what’s the best way to eat a pizza? Is there a pizza eating etiquette to live by? For Cordova, pizza is best eaten with one’s hand. He prefers the “one hand fold” wherein he folds one slice lengthwise. It’s less messy and it’s easier to bite into.
“In other countries, pizza is eaten with a fork and a knife, especially in fine dining restaurants. But in New York, I see people eating pizza with their hands. So, it depends,” Cordova said.
Indeed, eating pizza is relative. What’s important is to enjoy it and savor it, slowly, bit by bit just like the care that pizza makers have put into this exciting gastronomical delight. (Marie Katherine Villalon, The News Today, August 18, 2011. Photos by Ricky Alejo)

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