A Chicago guy and a New York guy making a pizza academy together? Doesn't add up, right?
And yet here's Leo Spizzirri, a Chicago native, and Anthony Iannone from Queens, New York, opening North American Pizza and Culinary Academy right here in Lisle.
"I think we both agree that the classic Italian style is more our favorite," Iannone said.
The school is an extension of Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, one of the oldest pizza academies in the world. With its headquarters located in Caorle, Italy, there are only 20 locations worldwide. This is just the second one to open in the United States.
Spizzirri and Iannone both come from cooking backgrounds. Spizzirri grew up in his family's bakery and Iannone in his family's restaurant. Spizzirri studied in Italy himself at Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli while Iannone got his degree at Johnson and Wales. Both have traveled the world cooking.
"We all grew up in the business and with families that cooked every holiday, so we all had families where food was a big part of our lives. And then taking a lot of the restaurant experience and taking it to, 'OK, how can this be made at home?'" Iannone said. "We want to encourage people to take a class here, see a recipe, learn how to make that recipe and then feel comfortable going home to their family and friends (to) recreate that recipe."
North American Pizza and Culinary Academy, 1970 University Drive, offers a variety of classes, from one-day immersion classes to five-day certification classes for those looking to get into the business.
"Our curriculum is the exact same curriculum that you would have in Italy," Spizzirri said. "The only difference is that we teach it in English."
The school isn't just for advanced cooks either. The culinary program offers less-intense courses for all sorts of different dishes, like tacos and pasta. There are cooking classes for kids as well.
"There's no target audience. It's everybody and anybody, whether you just want to learn more dishes to cook at home, whether you just enjoy watching the Food Network and now you just want to watch a chef cook live but you don't even have a desire of cooking, or somebody who might want to get into the business."
The academy also provides a special chef series that will bring in big-name chefs to teach classes. This includes a risotto class by Chef John Coletta and a French cooking class by Chef Rick Tramonto.
The front part of the academy is set up with long wooden tables and seats, with a kitchen against the back wall that is meant to look like a residential home kitchen. An oven room in the back features several different types of pizza ovens, including wood burning ovens and Neapolitan pizza ovens.
The facility also features a full production-style kitchen in the back that can be used for catering, and a climate- and humidity-controlled dough room with four dough-mixing machines imported from Italy.
"My dough room was the first thing we laid out in this building and the rest of the parts of this business revolve around that dough room, because that's really the heart of what we do," Spizzirri said.
Spizzirri and Iannone describe their style as a mix of traditional and innovative.
They said they're not afraid to try new things when it comes to cooking.
"What it comes to is, give the people what they want," Iannone said. "Maybe it's not your thing, maybe it's not what the original thing is … so maybe it's not tradition. But if that's the flavor profile people like, you have to honor it and be willing to serve it."
But when it comes to pizza making, Spizzirri said it's important not to go overboard.
"My pizzas are very simple," he said. "You would never see me make a pizza with more than five ingredients in them."
Spizzirri and Iannone chose to create the academy in Lisle because it is easily accessible off the highway and has better parking than Chicago. It's also between O'Hare International Airport and Midway Airport.
"To be able to offer people the same experience that they have in Italy, just here in Lisle, is a huge thing," Spizzirri said.
But what's most important to these chefs isn't the glory in creating this business. It's the mark they're leaving for future cooks.
"At the end of the day, I don't need to be recognized as an owner. Anthony doesn't need to be recognized as an owner," Spizzirri said. "It's about the people who are coming here and taking classes and learning in this facility. It's about them and it's about educating the next generation, whoever that is coming forward."
For information about the North American Pizza and Culinary Academy, check out the school's website at pizzaculinaryacademy.com.