Far from the balmy coastline and bustling pizza ovens of Naples, an innovative pizzaiolo is leading a culinary revolution in the small town of Alano di Piave. Set at the foothills of the Dolomites near the Prosecco hills of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, it’s an unlikely place for a pizza revolution. And yet it’s here that Denis Lovatel, the owner and head pizzaiolo at Pizzeria da Ezio, is at the helm of the most sustainable pizzeria in Italy.
“My dream is to inspire and educate the younger generation to eat and consume more consciously,” begins Lovatel. “And a pizzeria is the perfect place to do that because I feed hundreds of people each evening, many of them young customers.”
Pizzeria da Ezio, a family-owned restaurant-turned-pizzeria first established in 1977, is delightfully retro in style but its ethos is progressive. The pizzeria follows a few guiding principles: it aims to reduce its environmental impact by going zero plastic, reducing food waste by feeding leftovers to livestock, purchasing ingredients from local farmers and opting for plant proteins over animal products.
“I always say pizza is a pop language, it’s considered fast food because it’s so accessible. And you can make the biggest difference when you speak to the widest publics. A gourmet restaurant may share my vision but how many people do they serve each evening?” he asks.
The secret to promoting a sustainable lifestyle, according to Lovatel, is to be clear, direct and honest – which often comes with double the cost and double the risk. “You have to have the courage to stay firm and say no, this ingredient isn’t available because we can’t produce it or purchase it sustainably. In a small mountain town that is home to less than 3,000 people and facing a recession, it’s difficult to say no but if you stay committed to your values, I believe you can succeed,” he explains.
For his work, Lovatel has received the San Pellegrino award for innovation and sustainability and was invited by Food on the Edge in Ireland to speak about the future of pizza last year.
Pizza isn’t generally regarded as a healthy meal but after you bite into one of Lovatel’s pies, you’ll feel all the better for it.
“I worked closely with a nutritionist to develop my menu because I wanted to balance the right kind of carbohydrates and proteins. I approached it as a pizzaiolo, yes, but also as a sports enthusiast that was conscious about what I was putting in my body,” says Lovatel. “And from there I really started to evaluate each and every ingredient I served my guests.”
The dough is unusual, more similar to a matza crust than the tender versions you’ll find down south. Light and crunchy, it’s made with two local wheats grown in the Veneto region and uses foraged mountain herbs, instead of salt, to add flavor. “It’s a good excuse to wander through the forest,” he says. The herbs lend a touch of umami to the pizza while creating a unique product that remains hyperlocal and integrally tied to the territory. “Everything that happens in this pizzeria contributes to the circular economy,” he adds.
Like so many of Italy’s smallest towns, Alano di Piave is suffering from an economic downturn as people move to bigger cities and businesses close. Sustainability, to Lovatel, is more than just about the environment but also about boosting local business and generating a positive socioeconomic impact – and that often means safeguarding local tradition.
“We try to be as plant-based as possible, but our territory has relied on hunting for centuries so I want to honor that and help support farmers whenever I can,” explains Lovatel. “One of the butchers from a nearby town came to me asking for help – his livelihood was dying out because a local breed of sheep was going extinct. We decided to find a creative solution to support each other and help protect the biodiversity of our region.”
Today, the pecora di Lamone sheep live freely in the pastures where they produce milk used to make dairy products for the pizzeria, and at the end of their natural life span, are used to make cured meats. “I deeply care for animals so at Pizzeria da Ezio, we try to promote a plant-based lifestyle as much as possible. But meat is an important part of our culture. It’s important to balance tradition with ethics, so if we treat each animal as humanely as possible, I think we’ve done our duty.”
In addition to supporting the local community, Lovatel focuses on empowering his own employees. The pizzeria serves as a learning ground for his young staff and everyone is involved in reducing waste, finding sustainable solutions in the supply chain and communicating his mission with customers.
“Running the most sustainable pizzeria in Italy isn’t just about selecting the right partners and developing circular economies, but it stems from the philosophy of a venue. My employees need to be happy to work here and they have to feel involved,” he says. “At my pizzeria, staff aren’t just a number or a name. They’re an integral part of the project. And more than a team, we’re a family.”