Behind the Pizza Peel: Mathieu Palombino

Behind the Pizza Peel is a profile series I’ve been wanting to put together for years. Its goal is to reveal the warm–and sometimes wild–personalities that create America’s favorite food on a daily basis.

Who are the people behind the pizzas, and what made them choose a pizza peel over a briefcase? What’s their inspiration and what keeps them going? We find out in this ongoing series.

Behind the Pizza Peel:  Mathieu Palombino
Mathieu Palombino, courtesy: Motorino

Motorino: NYC, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore
Age: 38
Years in pizza biz:7
Favorite Hobbies Outside of Pizza: riding my motorcycle
The Pizza Insider: Why did you choose to go into the pizza business and what do you enjoy most about it?
Mathieu Palombino: I opened in 2008, which was a difficult time for restaurants.  I had to do something that I loved, but would also have a chance to succeed. Pizza was the answer. A pizzeria has a purpose in its neighborhood. 
The Pizza Insider: Looking back on your original pizza goals, how do they match, or differ from, where you are today?
Mathieu Palombino: When I opened the first Motorino in Williamsburg, I was just hoping it would become a popular neighborhood joint. I did not expect it would get the attention that it did. If you asked me seven years ago, I would never have thought that I would be opening new locations as far away as Hong Kong. Today, I hope to keep that momentum going and bring Motorino to new places. 
The Pizza Insider: In your opinion, what separates a good pizza maker from a great pizza maker?
Mathieu Palombino: A good Pizzaiolo has a recipe on hand and experience managing a pizza station and working an oven. A truly great pizza maker has knowledge in baking and understands the science behind a great dough.
The Pizza Insider: When you eat at other pizzerias, what type of pizza do you order and why?
Mathieu Palombino: I’ll try anything that sounds interesting, but I stay away from pears, peppers, and onions. I like the pizzas light in toppings and with a good dash of Tabasco sauce. 
The Pizza Insider: Who are your role models or mentors?
Mathieu Palombino: I don’t have a “pizza mentor,” necessarily. However, I admire Anthony Mangieri’s style of pizza making, and I love the pizzas of Napoli: charred, soft, pliable—delicious.
The Pizza Insider: What’s the best advice you ever received?
Mathieu Palombino: Happy wife, happy life.
The Pizza Insider: Do you have any words of wisdom for new pizzeria operators?
Mathieu Palombino:Get organized with the FDA so you can import your own olive oil and tomatoes from Italy. You’ll save the commission and you’ll be giving your money directly to the grower. There is no mystery about where your product is from. Plus, you get to visit Campania once a year!
The Pizza Insider: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would it be called?
Mathieu Palombino:Living the Dream in America