When the love of flour meets-cute the passion for ceramics
text: NADYA ZDRAVKOVA photos: TIHOMIR RACHEV
Sofia has a new place to feed your eyes, body, and soul and everything about it is just like in the movies.
She is a Bulgarian who creates beauty with her hands and colorful imagination. He’s an Italian and one of the 50 best pizzaiolos, a true master of l’arte bianca. Her element is clay, and his is flour. Their shared devotion to refined taste and aesthetics is romantically involved in the brand-new Paradiso Pizza & Friends that opened in downtown Sofia right before Christmas.
Meet architect Maria Baleva and chef Alberto Morello who are on a mission to feed your senses with the most delicious and beautiful pizza in Eastern Europe served in pottery&poetry’s one-of-a-kind tableware.
A brief sneak peek at the mise-en-scène of the cheerful atmosphere of Paradiso Pizza & Friends. We sit ourselves with the greatest of moods and a perfect view of Sofia’s iconic flag pylons of the National Place of Culture. The pizza joint welcomes its first customers who take off their winter coats. Amid the brightly colored interior, they are quick to forget we are in the middle of the darkest days of the year. Vivid moments and memories are waiting for them in the coming hour. Let’s eat. First with our eyes, then with all other senses.
True beauty is born at the tables of the new Italian job in town
The mastermind behind the menu, the recipes, and all their ingredients is chef Alberto Morello. Along with two other Italians and a Bulgarian, he launches his first venture outside his home country. Born in Este, Italy his family is in the hospitality business. He learned how to transform his passion for flour into art at Università della Pizza di Molino Quaglia. In 2009 he opened his first pizzeria in his hometown and a few years later was awarded the best young pizzaiolo in Italy. Since 2017 Alberto is also a proud Tre Spicchi chef, the highest recognition for excellence for a pizza master. For the past few years, his Gigi Pipa restaurant has been among the 50 Top Pizza in Italy according to the prestigious Gambero Rosso guide.
Let’s take a short sideway here to recall a favorite movie quote dating back from the 1990s. “Sex is like pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” Says Stephen Baldwin’s character in Threesome. What it has to do with our story is to serve as a reminder that pizza is always a great idea, true that. But it could also be much more than just a pizza. Degustacione – that’s what they call the signature pizzas of our master chef, now ready to be tasted and (highly) rated in Sofia. Their secret sauce is in the form of powder, namely the flour used for the dough. It’s made with natural yeast that allows for long fermentation, hence the better digestibility. Add on top seasonal veggies (in Italy Alberto’s pizzeria has a garden attached to the restaurant where they grow all the produce used in the recipes) and 100% authentic Italian products.
How did we make this shortcut from Este, Italy to downtown Sofia?
Sebastien Durelli is the brother of one of Morello’s closest friends. He came to Sofia in the summer of 2022 with his Bulgarian partner Sibylle Nacheva. They lived together in Paris, but Sofia’s vibe was so captivating, they decided to stay. “People are so nice, having fun, socializing, being out and about in the city and crowding the restaurants…” they share their first impressions from the capital of Bulgaria. Isn’t it like that in Paris as well, we ask? Sure, but in a different way, Sibylle and Sebastien say.
During one of his walks around Sofia, Sebastien spotted pottery&poetry gallery. The idea for a pizza place in Sofia was already in the air, and Maria Baleva’s handmade vibrantly colored plates are the perfect complement to Alberto Morello’s exquisite dough dishes. “The highly awarded art of flour of our Italian chef deserves to be plated in a tableware that is also a piece of art in itself”, Sibylle and Sebastien explain as they order the first pottery&poetry sets for their prospective restaurant. “Any chance you can introduce us to an architect and interior designer who can help us with the concept and the renovation?” the two ex-Parisans ask Mimi Baleva. “I’m an architect,” she smiles.
Even though she’s been fully dedicated to ceramics since 2020 and rarely fancies taking on interior projects, the idea to get involved as a designer, a tableware crafter, a consultant, and last but not least a helping friend, is something she hasn’t dared to wish for only until recently. “I started playing with clay because I missed handwork and creativity in my work as an architect. More like an escape and self-therapy from the stress, the projects, and the daily contacts with clients. I never imagined that only two years down the road some of the world’s top chefs will serve their signature dishes in my unique handmade ceramics. But if we don’t dream and venture, the most amazing things in life will never happen,” shares the artisan, with a true sense of fulfillment from her career turnover. As an architect, she is known as Mimi from FUNKT – the architecture studio in Sofia with a trademark design for many of the city’s favorite places. Paradiso Pizza & Friends is now the freshest one in their portfolio.
So it’s not a movie script, nor a Christmas carol, but based on true events love story that happens in the pink paradise of Paradiso. We experience it firsthand by ordering the Signature Crunchy Margherita and for the first time ever biting something that is soft and crunchy at the same time. The mozzarella is from the best mozzarella maker in Italy and is delivered exclusively for Paradiso every week. Tomato paste is S.Marzano DOP which Italians know to be Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) or saving ancient traditions. For the rest of the world DOP stands simply for a product that actually tastes better. Our Margherita comes in separate pieces, ready to be shared and admired. “The colors of Italy,” Sebastien says as he places the platter on the table. “Of Bulgaria too now,” Sibylle adds.