Pizza Pioneer with a Difficult Past, Andrew Bellucci, Dies at 59 - Liberty

Monday, November 27, 2023

Pizza Pioneer with a Difficult Past, Andrew Bellucci, Dies at 59

 Inspiring a generation of cooks, his preoccupation with reproducing the original New York Pizza helped resurrect a classic. But his aspirations brought in wars and, at one point, imprisonment.

Bellucci's Pizzeria
After a trademark issue, Andrew Bellucci at Astoria, Queens' Bellucci's Pizzeria changed its name to Andrew Bellucci's Pizzeria. He was one of the city's first chefs to gain recognition for pizza in the 1990s, and his success served as an inspiration for several neo-traditionalist pizza cooks. Stephen Yang

Andrew Bellucci was one of New York City's first chefs to rise to pizza fame in the 1990s. He had just returned to town. Pizzaioli, inspired by his artisanal, traditionalist approach, died Wednesday in Queens. he was 59 years old.

Business partner Matthew Katakis said he collapsed from heart failure while working at his restaurant, Andrew Bellucci's Pizzeria in Astoria.

Mr. Bellucci's pizza first caught our attention when he worked at Little He Italy's Spring he Lombardi's branch, a revived historic coal-fired pizzeria in St. Petersburg. was. was. was. Nancy Silverton, Todd English, and other chefs came to sample his pizza. This pizza was a collapsible, almost interchangeable golden and orange pizza sold all over town. It was very different from Slice. Silverton was particularly impressed with the pies topped with fresh clams, garlic, oregano, and olive oil.

In a 1995 New York Times book review, Eric Asimov wrote, "The glory is the dough. Light and thin, crispy yet springy, black and plump, full of charcoal-grilled smoky flavor." There is.” ' Said. 'I wrote. ' he wrote. There is "

New York pizza has long been celebrated, but its origins were obscure, its technique poorly understood, and its makers largely unknown except to a few regular customers. Mr. Bellucci saw things differently.

He learned the art of pizza in an East Village and baked pies in his boot at Two His to round out the Three of Cups.

The book convinced Bellucci that the first pizza in the United States was made by Neapolitan immigrant Gennaro Lombardi in a charcoal oven on Spring Street. Persuaded, he began roaming Little Italy, finding an empty bakery with a coal-burning oven on Spring Street. He kept looking until he found Lombardi's grandson, Gennaro, and persuaded him to put his family's name on the oven-equipped pizzeria he found. Bellucci made a pie.

Bellucci's Pizzeria
Mr. Bellucci in 1995 at Lombardi's. He contributed to the restaurant's renaissance by igniting a school of imitators and a revival of the traditional New York pizza. Muhammad Ozier

But Bellucci didn't just switch fabrics. He talked about pizza, pizza ovens, pizza houses, and pizza traditions, highlighting styles and techniques that other pizzerias will explore over the next few decades.

"He spearheaded the resurgence of the traditional coal-fired New York pizza," trade columnist Scott Weiner said. Things have returned to normal," he said. It's pizza today.

"He revived things like Neapolitan pizza, which led to neo-Neapolitan pizza like Roberta's, Polly's, and Ops," Wiener continued, referring to the city's three largest wood-fired pizzerias. he raised the eaves. "That's what got us where we are today." The pizza ecosystem is diverse, and even one piece of him on a street corner is considered worthy of some serious attention.

One day in 1995, two FBI agents visited Lombardi's house and ordered pizza. They left Mr. Bellucci in handcuffs.

The charges against him date back to his days as a manager at the Manhattan law firm Neuman Schlau, Fitch & Lane. Talkative and personable, Mr. Bellucci was popular within the company.

According to the nearly four-hour documentary Untitled Pizza Movie about him, he once invited a lawyer and other employees to a party at a restaurant on Christopher Street.

One customer looked around and said to her husband, one of her company's partners: "He must be stealing from you."

She was right, but it took months for the company to determine that Mr. Bellucci embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. By then he had left the company and appears to have disappeared.

Federal investigators suspected he had fled the country. He dressed up on Spring Street for an interview. Ultimately, one of his television appearances was tipped off to authorities.

"Why would a Ram Rider allow himself to be photographed hundreds of times?"

In a phone interview from prison, Asimov said the victims were nothing more than law firms, insurance companies, and banks, and denied the seriousness of the crime. "It's not something an old lady would care about," he said.

When he was released on bail, the court stipulated that he undergo a drug test, and the sentencing recommended that he undergo drug counseling. Bellucci denied his drug use in interviews.

Other parts of his story have been revealed. Contrary to his claims, he was not Lombardi's partner.

He also persuaded journalists to follow the Lombardy recipe. Years later, however, he told Mr. Wiener that his fabric was the same one made by Toe Boots.

He told people he was from the Bronx. Neumann Schrau's lawyers, Fitch and Lane, came to believe that his grandmother had survived the Holocaust as a Jew.

Bellucci was left with his mother. his younger brother Joel; and estranged from his wife Geetanjali Peter. His sister Chantelle died of cancer at the age of 14.

For several years after his release in 1997, Mr. Bellucci drove a taxi and fell into what the documentary describes as "pizza purgatory." He wanted to return to Lombardy, but his landlord wouldn't let him.

Bellucci's Pizzeria
2020's Sundance Film Festival will host the world premiere of "Untitled Pizza Movie," a nearly four-hour documentary largely on Mr. Bellucci. Image by Dia Dipasupil/Getty

In 2013, an ad on Craigslist landed him the position as the founding chef of Mikey's Original New York Pizza, an emerging American-style pizzeria group in Malaysia.

The job "helped me get back into the game," he later said, but in Kuala Lumpur, he worked long hours, had no friends, and lived alone in an empty apartment. One night he swallowed 50 Vicodin tablets while being chased by Jack Daniels in a suicide attempt, he told the documentary. Two hours late for work the next morning, but he was alive.

Meanwhile, he funded his dream restaurant, Pizza His Cathedral. Clam pies occupy an entire page of the menu, and employees peel clams to order at this famous station, built to resemble a pulpit. I was looking for a sponsor who would do it.

His employer, Leo Dakmak, who owns a piercing and tattoo shop in St. Mark's Place, was new to the pizza industry.

The $35,000 new electric oven-baked pizza had 25 options, including pepperoni with vodka sauce and chicken bacon ranch. All pies and slices are sprinkled with Pecorino Romano aged for 18 months and Alanya pepper harvested in Kerala, India, according to the restaurant.

Less than a year later, Mr. Bellucci resigned. Dakmak said there had been an altercation over "repeated high charges to the company's credit card."

Bellucci told gourmet site Grub Street that it was Duck Mac's "last hope" to open a second location "whether I was there or not." He soon found his new colleague Matthew Katakis. Together, they built a flashy red-and-white restaurant a few blocks from Bellucci's Pizza, nearly five times his size.

They named it Bellucci Pizzeria. Dakmak, which had trademarked the name Bellucci Pizza, has filed a lawsuit.

Although imprecise, the case, commonly known as the Bellucci v. Bellucci case, was a compelling case for the press, garnering at least as much press as Mr. Bellucci received during his criminal proceedings.

While the menu included his 18 pizzas, three types of dough, and any number of toppings, Mr. Bellucci was most enamored with the two aspects of his job. bottom. was. under. was. One is what Katakis called the "marginal madness" of his dough. Another was a clam pizza.

“Some people put clam pies on the menu, but nobody pays attention to it,” says Katakis. "He found that the clams were good for pizza even when they were cold, so he thought it was necessary to sous vide," he said, adding that he cooked the clams in a hot water circulator for 45 seconds before grilling them. rice field. field. Added. heated.

When Bellucci died, he was preparing a clam pizza as a surprise for some guests.

Returning to the oven as a renowned veteran, Mr. Bellucci encountered a younger generation of bakers who, like him, are meticulous about their pizza. He became a mentor to many of them, inviting them to work in the kitchen, sharing recipes, and giving advice before opening a pizzeria.

"Nobody was trying to pay homage to pizza," says Levine. "It took a convicted felon to do it. It's kind of crazy when you think about it."