Just A Platform’s Concetta Colucci meets a fellow Pugliese who is bringing a slice of his home town in southern Italy to London.
After 12 years working for an oil company in Italy came to end Gianni Perillo found himself unemployed and thinking what he was going to do next. It forced him to come up with ideas. Luckily one of those ideas was to bring panzerotti, which resembles a small calzone stuffed with tomato and mozzarella cheese, to London. In September 2015 Gianni sets up a small stall in Stratisans market, Covent Garden, until he found a more suitable home at Greenwich market later that year and where his venture Panzerotto Blues has been ever since.
What made you decide to leave Italy?
During the 12 years I spent with a permanent job I felt embedded in the usual routine. The desire to change was almost non existent due the stability of my job. So I ended up forgetting what I really wanted and even stopped asking myself the question. Losing my job became the moment I remembered what I really wanted and who I wanted to be. I had always wanted to go and do my own thing and be an entrepreneur. I saved as much as I could during the previous years, because I knew that the opportunity could arrive and I didn’t want to let it slip away!
London is the street food homeland and with a faster bureaucracy. I realised that this city could give me the opportunity I always missed! Before London I had explored setting up with a brief stay in Ibiza, but I realized that I wouldn’t have such a good chance with my street food because in Ibiza there is no real street food culture. So I decided for London.
How did the idea of panzerotto come about?
First of all, I knew I wanted to work into the dining world because there is an immediate profit and the payment is direct … it’s yours, you do something well and you get a payment. Furthermore street food is cheaper than other catering activities.
When I was in Altamura, I had started looking for a commercial partner: this revealed a hard business, I often felt alone. Around where I come from if you have an idea it is synonymous with madness – everyone told me that I was crazy and that since I was not experienced or prepared I wouldn’t know where to begin
I went to London to study English. The new language wasn’t the only thing to know, I had to study the new environment, move to see the markets and learn how to actually make panzerotti. I didn’t know what my future was: I didn’t understand the words, the mechanisms, the speed with which everything changed. The time I spent waiting for a response seemed eternal. I shared a house with other guys and I worked hard.
I studied in a “pizza school” to have practical knowledge. Then I learned all the real skills on how to make a good panzerotto from my cousin who had been doing it for fifty years. I only trusted him and his advice. We worked together for five days and I learned to raise a dough for the right time and how to make stuffed mozzarella and tomato and the frying and cooking process.
My wife and my son remained in my hometown with my mother in-law. I lived thanks to the savings accumulated over the years as I prepared for the big jump for the dream I wanted to accomplish. It was not easy to leave my family and go.. to go to learn… I did not even know what.
How did you get to Panzerotto Blues?
I sent many applications to have a bench in one of London’s markets and I got the first answer after many months. I opened a bench market near Covent Garden but it closed at 3 pm and the panzerotto is a fried food which is easier to eat in the evening. That experience didn’t work very well, but I had learned a lot from it which I could use in the future.
A few months later I sent an application to Greenwich market which stays open until 5.30 pm and which I thought would be more suitable – but nobody called me. During one of the days I spent waiting for an answer that didn’t come, I decided to fry three or four panzerotti. I prepared a gift box and I took it into the market offices to let it be tasted by those who were taking care of my request. After just an hour I had my stall in Greenwich market. It was December 3rd. I still remember that day, the first opening, the first fry. Luckily my cousin had taught me well and thankfully I remembered everything!
Toda,y we are going great Sometimes we struggle more than others as ours is not a well known product. After all this is the panzerotto as I have always eaten when I was home, as my friends still eat in Altamura I just need the time to communicate this more and better to everybody!
Which is the best compliment you have had from a native Brit?
When people do not realise that the panzerotto is fried and they ask me if it has been cooked in the oven. This is for me is the best compliment, it means that I have made a light tasting panzerotto, even if it is fried. I use olive oil in the dough, produced by my family. Many of the products I use come from Puglia, I know them, they belong to me.
Do English customers like to get a bit messy with A panzerotto?
This is just the best part of street food. Although I would say that panzerotto is easier to handle than say a burger or burrito as they are more smaller and compact.
Are you a purist or experimental when it comes to panzerooto?
Well, I cannot be a purist in London. I suggest, of course, classic panzerotto, mozzarella and tomato, but I also know that I have to meet the taste of Londoners The dough remains the traditional one but I also offer stuffed with pork or beef.
I could sell pasta or other more popular Italian products and my life would have been easier. But this is my mission to be different, to experiment, to offer more niche products. I know I have a great product and just need to build on it now.
Panzerotto Blues, 5 B Greenwich Market, London. it-it.facebook.com/panzerottoblues/
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