In Italy, one in three pizza makers isn’t Italian

It takes experts.
It takes experts.
Image: Reuters/Tony Gentile
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Pizza might be the most Italian of foods—so much so that the country has nominated it for UNESCO heritage protection.

Making a good pizza is an art. A whole academy is dedicated to it. It’s also a good place to find a job: With 100,000 employed as pizzaioli (pizza chefs) full time, at least 50,000 more weekend workers, and at least 6,000 vacant spots, according to data from Accademia Pizzaioli (pizza chefs’ academy, link in Italian), the field is uncommonly healthy in Italy’s difficult job market.

But making pizza is hard work, too, especially when it involves hours standing by a wooden fire as hot as 400° C, or about 750° F, quickly preparing sometimes hundreds of pizzas per night. Between eat-in and takeaway, 1.6 billion pizzas are eaten in Italy every year, says the academy.

This might be why more Italians are giving up pizza making and handing it over to immigrants. According to data from Coldiretti, Italy’s main agricultural organization, at least 35% of all pizzaioli (link in Italian) aren’t from Italy. In Milan, further data shows, half the pizza shops (link in Italian) are owned and run by foreigners.

Egyptians, in particular, are big on the business. Like many Mediterranean cultures, Egypt has a long tradition of bread-making, which translates pretty perfectly to making pizza dough. An estimated 20%, or 20,000, of all pizzaioli in Italy are Egyptian. In Milan, in 2010, there were 119 pizza chefs from Egypt and only 31 pizza makers from Campania, the region surrounding Naples.

While pizza is a food of choice for many immigrants, it’s also true that the food industry tends to create entry level job opportunities for many immigrants. The number of foreign entrepreneurs in the food industry has grown 30.9% between 2010 to 2015 (pdf in Italian, p. 2). Some 10.7% of entrepreneurs in Italy’s food industry are foreigners.