Pizza is having something of a renaissance in New York City, from Italian masters setting up shop here to the Artichoke Pizza guys branching out into Detroit-style pies and even rainbow-colored pizzas because that’s just the times we live in.
At Roman pizza destination Marta, newly minted executive chef Lena Ciardullo is setting a different kind of pizza challenge: inviting some of her favorite chefs into her kitchen to create a pizza-centric tasting menu. “There’s an interest in people seeing all kinds of different and fun dynamics of what you can do with pizza,” she says.
Kicking off on June 4, Dueling Pizzas is less competition than collaboration. (Because when more people are making pizza, everyone wins.) Ciardullo and her team will welcome five chefs — most of them not pizzaiolos — to create a seven-course menu: an amuse bouche, two appetizers and three pizza courses. Marta’s pastry chef Jessica Weiss will make an on-theme dessert to round out the evening.
“Last year, we had Olmsted come in — they aren’t doing pizza there — but it was them taking some of their most classic dishes that people know and love and transferring them onto pizza and showing it in that way,” she says. “We’re able to get a look at what their whole feel would be, both in how they dress the pizza and whatever other dishes they choose to highlight.”
First up is Matt Hyland from Brooklyn darling Pizza Loves Emily, but then the contenders get interesting: Suzanne Cupps from the Whitney Museum’s fine-dining restaurant Untitled (July 9), Ashley Rath of new Midtown power lunch spot The Grill (Aug. 6), Alex Raij of Spanish tapas favorite Txikito (Aug. 27) and Sawako Okochi, who makes acclaimed Jewish-Japanese fare at Shalom Japan (Sept. 24).
It’s a chance for them to stretch their skills; at the same time, Ciardullo and her team get to try their own new ideas, some of which may even end up on the regular menu. And having a rock star in the kitchen is always fun: “There’s just so many fantastic chefs out there that you always want an opportunity to work with, people that you admire, so it was another opportunity for us to do that.”
For the full Dueling Pizzas experience, you’ll want to score one of the coveted front-row seats at the pizza counter for the tasting menu ($80 per person with an optional $40 wine pairing. In the rest of the dining room, you’ll be able to order the wood-fired dishes and specialty pies a la carte.
After starting with Marta when it opened back in 2014 as sous chef, Ciardullo was promoted to executive chef back in March. She’s not planning to change what works, including the incredible stracciatella pie that’s worth a trip for anyone who thinks the simple cheese slice can’t be improved on. What she does hope to do is highlight Marta’s huge Infierno grill, which nearly everything in the restaurant spends some time on: Arctic char, heritage pork chop, sweetbreads, artichokes.
“Marta will, I hope, be known for wood-fire [cooking], both with the pizzas and also with the grill and all of the cool flavor profiles and things that we can do there,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things the guest chefs who come for Dueling Pizzas are really excited to get to cook with, because they may not have that equipment in their restaurants and it’s a fun thing to get to spotlight your food from.”
Marta is located on the ground floor of the Redbury Hotel, 29 E. 29th St. Seatings for the Dueling Pizzas are at 6 and 8:30 p.m. at the pizza counter. For reservations, visit Resy or call 212-651-3800.