Pizzeria Piccola is located in the heart of the downtown Wauwatosa village and a place where you’ll find one-of-a-kind, Neapolitan-style pizzas. On most days, Pizzeria Piccola chef, Jose Camberos, can be found in front of the Italian wood burning oven, tossing dough and crafting delicious pies. But like many occupations, there are times when the demands of the job require some flexibility. Today was one of those days when this artist of all things pizza took off his apron to assist with bussing tables and running food from the kitchen to the upstairs seating and outdoor patio areas. After the rush, I had a few minutes to sit down with Chef Jose to chat about what he loves most about his job.
Q. We have a lot of different types of salads, pastas and pizzas on the menu. Did it take you a long time to learn all the ingredient combinations?
A. Our kitchen operates on a four-station system and each new chef spends time training in each station. We start with salads, move to pizza assembly, oven and lastly, expediting. It took about one – two months to really have a handle on the operations of each station. I’m really passionate about food and cooking in general, so my interest level of our ingredients and different preparations made the process go by very quickly. Also, the Pizzeria can get really busy which allows great opportunities for aspiring cooks to begin their training. In fact, my training over the last 4 years has gone so well that I’ve been able to work in our fine dining restaurants with techniques translating quite easily.
Q. Are all of the stations equally important?
A. Absolutely! If we don’t work together, things become confusing, our timing is off and we have a chance of making mistakes. We want to provide the best product and service for our customers, so it’s really important all of the chefs and staff know what is expected of them in each station. To break it down, the salad station is where the salads, paninis and pastas are all assembled before being expedited. The pizza station is designed specifically to assemble and top the pizzas with a variety of fresh ingredients before they are sent to the wood-burning oven to be cooked; ultimately leading to the oven station. A cook is stationed near the brick oven which burns hotter than 600 degrees. The pizza is placed in the oven and rotated near the fire until the dough reaches a golden brown. Each pizza takes about 8-12 minutes to cook thoroughly, depending on the amount of pizzas in the oven and the toppings included on each one. Upon completion of the pizza’s cooking, it is sent to the food runner (server assistant) to be expedited.
Q. It’s pretty infrequent that the servers are given the wrong food to deliver to customers. How do the chefs keep the orders straight?
Sometimes there can be as many as six or seven pizzas on each ticket, so things can get a little crowded on the counter. Not to mention the kitchen consistently holds anywhere from 2-6 cooks at a time doing different things, so crowded can be an understatement on a busy Friday night. To keep everything organized, a ticket system using numbers in the 100’s and 200’s are used to identify the location for the pizza(s) or entree(s) needs to be delivered. Tickets are not set out until everything on the list is completed and ready to be sent to the customer.
Q. What do you think makes Pizzeria Piccola different from other pizza spots in Milwaukee?
A. Our pizzas are made to order beginning with a ball of dough, rolled out by hand and topped with fresh ingredients. Some of them are so fresh, like the special cheeses that we use, that they were made on a farm in Italy just days before we use them. Our tomatoes, olive oil among others also come directly from Italy. We have recipes that cater to gluten free diets as well and have become very popular over the past few years. We serve some gluten and dairy free pastas and pizza dough made from the finest, domestic and imported non-wheat gluten free ingredients and grains. We are also known for our amazing garlicky bread knots, gelato selection and Society Sundays where we open our doors to community organizations to assist with fundraising efforts which support their cause.