India on the fast lane is fast logging on to the quick eat network – and Italy tops the gourmet scores with its platter of pizzas, pasta, lasagna, spaghetti and risotto, not to mention the array of rich fruity wines from the Valleys and the nooks of the Mediterranean. Italian pizza king and spiritualist Ciro Orsini has been quick to catch on to the trend in a rapidly urbanising India.
His pizza chain outlet, CIro’s Pomodoro, named after a species of tomato, celebrated its first birthday in the Indian national capital (New Delhi) with a small posse of friends from Bollywood and Hollywood on July 24.
The chain took hip London by storm in the 1978, when Ciro opened his pizzario at Beuchamp place Knightsbridge in London, a stone’s throw from Harrods, combining high energy eats with hippie spirituality.
Ciro, known as the mastermind behind converting the delicate Italian pizza – essentially a snack – into a wholesome gourmet meal with add-ons and toppings in the 1980s England, blends spirituality with his savouries from Italy. The 53-year-old pizza impresario is covered in tattoos that flowers on his torso and arms like ancient totemic omens. His wrists are choc-a-bloc with silver charm bracelets. And around his neck dangles more than a dozen odd necklaces of healing “tawizi”, sacred pendants.
Born a devout Catholic in the Napoli region of Italy, Ciro turned to Sufi spirituality after he realized “that the Catholic Church was not doing much to help people in distress – especially during disasters like the tsunami”.
“I don’t like the Church. They don’t do the right thing. I was born a Catholic but I don’t believe in it any more. And neither in the government. One has to find one own’s way,” Ciro told this writer in an informal chat at the Pomodoro in New Delhi. This quest for alternative spirituality mooring led the pizza innovator to Maulana Kazmi, a revered Sufi mystic in Pakistan, a Sufi shrine in Cyprus and to Maulana Sheikh Nazim in London. They showed him the healing power of faith in divine commune with god, Ciro recalled.
“I connected to the faith instantly. I have worked with orphans in Pakistan and have seen how the Sufi mystics heal children possessed by demons. Three years ago, I was in Pakistan to be blessed by 21 Sufi saints. It was lightening process – I let go of my anxiety,” Ciro said, showing off a Sufi “tawizi” that has a powerful healing effect on the entrepreneur.
Ciro is keen to known the mysticism of India – the healing power and temperance of Hinduism that he believes “is as inclusive and warm as Sufism”. This dash of spirituality tops his pizza as well.
“I have an USP. I can make pizzas according to blood types as special healing recipes. It is personal contribution I have made the traditional legacy of the Italian delicacy,” Ciro divulged between sips of sparkling mineral water. He has evolved recipes for “those with type A positive, O, AB and B blood groups”.
“People with certain type of blood feel good with certain type of food. For example, people with positive blood groups have an affinity to vegetables like carrots, cauliflowers and broccoli. For the positive blood type eaters, I top my pizza liberally with vegetables. And for the O blood type, I top the crust with lot of meat,’ the pizza chef said. “Eating a pizza becomes a spiritual experience”.
Ciro’s menu of exotica from home grown produce – that include traditional gourmet dishes like the Zuppe, Selezione Di Pane, Antipasti, Insalate, Paste, Risotti, Secondi Piatti and Contorni — has sparked generous amount of interest among the Delhi foodies.
Ciro’s range boasts of Hollywood favourites as well like the “recipe of Dustin Hoffman’s signature ‘Mushroom’, Jackie Shroff’s “Pizza all Ortolano”, Sophia Loren’s “Verdure”, Sharon Stone’s “Pesto”, Patrick Swaye’s “Quattro Formagi”, George Clooney’s “Chicken Fajita”, Al Pacino’s “Padrino”, Sylvester Stallone’s “Caterina” and Clint Eastwood’s “Proscuitto”. The guest list to the outlets is a “starstudded who’s who”- from Axel Rose of Guns n Roses, Mike Tyson, Brad Pitt to Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor.
Ciro’s tryst with pizza is quixotic. “When I was young, I was a boxer. Later when I began to studying, I began catering in Napoli to support myself. Later I located to Milano’s in Rome. After boxing and studies, I went into restauranteering and realized that this was what I wanted to do in the future,” Ciro said, recounting his journey across the world of pizza.
The boxer-turned-pizza chef said “it was nice feeling being in the kitchen”. “But so many people were working in the kitchen and I wanted to do a little more than them. When I was in London, I decided to turn the thin crust Napoli pizza into a gourmet meal with extra fillings, cheese and meat. So that it was not just after dinner … But a dinner menu in itself,” Ciro said.
Pizza since then has travelled far and wide as a full meal. In India, Ciro has to compete with American version of thin, medium and thick crusted pizzas – and in their Indian avatars like paneer (cottage cheese) and tikka (tandoor grilled) topped spicy toppings.
“I think the market in India is maturing and it is the right time to take it on,” Ciro said.
The chef specializes in pasta as well and recommends olive peppercini (Tuscan peppers), chilli, garlic, oil and sea food pasta for the Indian palette.
“Think local and work globally,” is the motto, Ciro proclaims with a flourish.
Ciro’s Pomodoro is located at N Block Market, GK 1, New Delhi