Salvatore Cuomo

By on February 28, 2011
When Salvatore Cuomo rolled up his sleeves and came back to Japan to help out his ailing father manage the family business at the age of 18, little did he know that that was to be the start of his journey to fame. Starting an original Neapolitan pizza restaurant in Japan in 1992 not so many knew about, was, every inch, a tough gamble for the young man. Interestingly though, the passion, determination and trade savviness he had acquired from school and mentors in his family, paved the way to where his true talent lies – training people and creating delicious recipes!Thanks to a satisfied and loyal fan base, Salvatore today runs about seventy pizzerias and restaurants all over Japan.

TF:  According to your Facebook profile, you started your career at the age of 11.  Tell us about your journey and what brought you to your present celebrity status.

Salvatore:  My father and uncle were both chefs. It was at the tender age of 11, while in elementary school, that I knew I was going to be one myself. At age 16, I came to Japan to help out my ailing father in his restaurant business. Although I had worked very hard, I felt that I sort of did not fit in. So I packed my bags and went back to Italy where I pursued my studies in cooking at a professional school in northern Italy for two years.  Then the father who I thought was strong passed away. His death had given me the compelling mission of following in his footsteps which made me decide to make Japan a base to continue what we shared in common – the love of cooking. 

I would say meeting Mr. Kanayama of Y’s Table Corporation at age 19 signalled the start of my new life. At that time in Japan, when you talk about pizza, the first thing that came to mind was American mainstream pizza which is different from my pizza. For the purpose of introducing an authentic Neapolitan pizza to Japan, I opened up a restaurant. The taste of original pizza from Naples where I grew up went very well with the Japanese crowd.  Pizza used to be perceived differently in Japan as an upscale dish so initially our restaurants at that time used to be pricey. After extensive research,  we were able to change that perception into what it truly is – a casual, reasonably priced food. Later, Salvatore Cuomo Japan was established and launched its first pizza delivery to reach out to kids to enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza. It is now expanding its activities in Asia and the mission goes on!

TF: You are of mixed Italian-Japanese origin.  Has that helped influence your cooking and preparation technique to please the Japanese customers?

Salvatore: My dad is Italian, my mom is Japanese and I grew up in Naples. I practically grew up touching pizza all the time since childhood.  I really do not make a big fuss about the origin or genre of food.  Instead, I try to incorporate in my recipe whatever is good.

I want to cook food with an attitude and to me, that’s what matters. Japanese cuisine for the most part is a delicate one, requiring attention to details. I learn by making my own and studying. I find toying with ideas about what ingredients can be interesting. What I do is pick the most interesting part and turn it into a dish.  Influence? I take the good side from each culture and make it work.

TF  Recently, you have created an interesting fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisines in a bento box you named Bento all’Italiana. Where can people buy them?

Salvatore This is not always for sale.  I made this on the occasion of the opening of my restaurant called XEX Nihonbashi  in October. The bar at XEX serves a fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisine and it was where this was served.

TF  Italians are known the world over as family-oriented therefore it is common for families to enjoy a nice meal together everyday.   What dishes are typically considered comfort foods in Italy just as “nabe ryouri” is to Japan?

Salvatore:  Ragout. Growing up, this was the typical meal packed with my grandma’s love.
I remember she would wake up at 4am, start cooking, and serve it by 2pm.

TF   Which among your restaurants would you recommend to families for a nice Sunday dinner and why?

Salvatore  Pizza Salvatore Cuomo, if it is an informal family dinner. It’s a place strongly focused on pizza. There are a number of pizzerias out there using stone oven. The Pizza Salvatore Cuomo brand however was launched dedicated to children because I would like children to enjoy my authentic Neapolitan pizza. It uses only organic ingredients that are totally safe for kids. Our mozzarella cheese made from 100 percent cow’s milk is delivered fresh twice a week to ensure quality and children’s safety. You can dine in shops or ask for delivery.

TF You are known for fusing unlikely flavors like pizza and Chinese cuisine, Japanese, Italian, etc., but come out excellent. How do you come up with these ideas?

Salvatore  Just by looking at a dish, I get a hint of what it would taste like. The focus on fusing is not the taste but  cooking method. For example, I look at ramen being prepared the traditional way and some idea sparks up like what if I cooked it this way or that way? I opened a restaurant in China too so I have travelled to many places there. I am deeply curious about the spices and tea sold at the store with which I create unique dishes. I went to a Japanese restaurant once and saw radish slices in a bowl and an idea donned on me to use ravioli instead. We all see these hints in everyday life. I’m just better at incorporating ideas to create my own brand of expression. There are many dishes in Japan that has foreign origin like hamburger, pork cutlet, curry and, after modification, eventually become known as a Japanese dish. Dish nationality does not matter to me, just my expression.

TF Now that you’ve become successful, what is your next goal?

Sal