All around the world, women have been fixtures in home kitchens since there have been kitchens in homes. And all around the world, men have been fixtures in restaurant kitchens since there have been kitchens in restaurants. It’s estimated that 77 percent of restaurant chefs are male.
That reality is especially evident in the kitchens of pizzerias, where the image of a pizzaiolo in a paper cap and sauce-stained apron is part of gastronomic folklore. And let’s face it, there’s an ethos of pizza making rooted in machismo: manly men working dough and spinning discs in the air, doling out toppings and pulling hot pies out of the oven that they slash into slices.
Women in Pizza wants to change that image and reality. There are many women in the pizza industry now and countless others who want to join. The Women in Pizza movement aims to make them visible and empower them to pursue their passions.
The movement was born under the auspices of Orlando Foods, a third generation-owned and -operated importer and distributor of select Italian products, particularly those associated with pizza making (flour, tomatoes, oil, mozzarella di bufala).
The New Jersey-based company, with its array of pizzeria clients, was aware of the presence, albeit limited, of women in pizza kitchens and exasperated by how few knew of even these figures. So in 2016, in an effort to raise awareness, the company began hosting Women in Pizza Power Hours at the annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. There, pizzaiolas alone would reign over the company’s exhibit station and prepare pizzas for expo attendees.
Orlando Foods creative director Alexandra Mortati saw how successful and empowering the Power Hours were and wanted more. “After watching and getting to know all of these amazing women, we realized we needed to formalize a platform that gave them and other women the recognition they deserved," Mortati says.
In 2019, Mortati worked with Orlando Foods’ marketing manager, Casey Derk, to launch Women in Pizza. Their mission: to empower women in the pizza industry to "share their stories, display their talents, inspire innovations, and connect with one another and the world.” In other words, amplify the voices and images of women in the pizza industry so future generations believe they can join the industry, too.
Along with an ever-growing social media presence and attendance at various expos and conferences, the group relies on talented ambassadors to help spread the mission.
“The original ambassadors were chosen because of our long-standing relationship with them, their achievements in the pizza industry, and the time that they have been in the pizza business," Derk says. "These women have literally been part of the struggle to gain equal footing in a realm that, up until recently, has been dominated by men.”
The current nine ambassadors include esteemed figures like Laura Meyer, who learned her craft under legendary pizza maker Tony Gemignani in San Francisco before becoming a corporate chef at Pizza Rock Restaurant Group. She's been named to both Forbes' and Zagat's 30 Under 30 lists and has won top prize honors at prestigious international competitions in both Italy and America. There’s also Giorgia Caporuscio, who won the coveted Caputo Cup in Naples at just 22 years old—the youngest woman to do so. She's also a Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree and the proprietor of two Manhattan locations of Kesté Pizza & Vino.
Ambassador Nicole Russell owns Last Dragon Pizza in Rockaway, Queens—a limited-service, word-of-mouth, online pizza business with a devoted following among pizza enthusiasts. She says it's critical people know how involved women are in the pizza world.
“Pizza started with women in a front room of a building in Naples,” Russell says. “Our movement reminds the pizza industry that the Grandma Pie that you know and love was created or inspired by your Nona—a woman. It’s Grandma’s recipe. We are here and very vital to the industry as both pizza makers and owners and operators.”
Together, the ambassadors help raise awareness for Women in Pizza's mission in their day-to-day work and encourage others to get involved.
“We want to help other women see that they can do this and let others who are doing it know they are not alone," Mortati says. "We hope to inspire young girls that this is something they can do, too, someday.”