Is it really a food NFT if it can’t be eaten? This is the question posed by celebrity chef Christian Petroni and the team at 8it, with the creation of their first “Edible NFT.”
Of course, the NFTs themselves won’t be digestible — but the pizza they represent will be. Holders will be granted entry into Petroni’s Pizza Party pop-ups, which will commence with a first come, first served event at a secret location in New York City — Christian Petroni’s hometown — on March 20. At the IRL pop-up, the chef will be serving his signature garlic butter Sicilian pie — inspired by the classic square-shaped Sicilian slices he grew up eating and a nod to his guilty pleasure, Domino’s Handmade Pan Pizza. With claymation artwork by creative director David Schwen to be revealed at the drop, the NFTs will be available at Crypto.com/NFT on March 14 — fittingly known as Pi Day.
“I think about it as a members-only dining club.”Christian Petroni, Creator of “Petroni’s Pizza Party”
With nonlocal collectors in mind, NFT holders will also gain access to a private channel on 8it’s Edible NFT Discord — where they can vote on which city the party should hit next, among other planned perks such as Gabagool merch, airdrops of Petroni family recipes and invites to private dinners and cooking classes, both virtual and in-person at Gabagool HQ. Full details may be subject to change and will be provided by 8it on their website or the “Petroni’s Pizza Party” drop page — but for any skeptics out there, such as the chef’s own mother, Petroni sat down with Nonna Fiorella for some quality “NFTea Time” to explain his vision for the project and how it will work.
Kiss the Cook
A contestant on the current and third season of Guy Fieri’s star-studded “Tournament of Champions” cooking competition, Petroni has appeared on several other Food Network programs as either judge or chef — including “Chopped,” “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” “Guy’s Ranch Kitchen,” “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Supermarket Stakeout.” In fact, he rose to fame after winning the 14th season of “Food Network Star” in 2018 — the same show that catapulted Fieri’s career, after the spiky blond-haired culinary rockstar won its second season in 2006. Petroni holds his relationship with Fieri in high-regard, likening him to an older brother.
Petroni was also one of four chefs and restauranteurs featured in Fieri’s acclaimed documentary “Restaurant Hustle 2020: All on the Line” and its followup, “Restaurant Hustle 2021: Back in Business,” about the hardships faced by the restaurant industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The documentary focused on his work with New York Italian restaurant chain Fortina — which he cofounded, opening five locations across the Tri-State area over the span of eight years, before establishing multimedia and consultancy company Gabagool Media.
Thinking Outside the Pizza Box
Born and raised in the Bronx, spending summers with his grandparents on the island of Ponza off the coast of south-central Italy, Petroni was as influenced by the diverse culinary traditions of New York as he was old-world southern Italian techniques. As a result, his cooking style juxtaposes traditional Italian and Italian-American cuisine like nonna used to make with more contemporary sensibilities — just as comforting as the prior, but not opposed to breaking rules and thinking outside the pizza box.
Crypto.com NFT spoke with the self-described “maximalist” chef about his upbringing, working with Fieri, his NFT supper club debut and his plans for the Gabagool community — asking the important questions about pizza such as which New York borough makes the best slice, if there’s really anything special about the city’s water and whether or not pineapple is an appropriate topping.
“Why is it okay to put spicy honey on a pizza, but we can’t put f—g pineapple on pizza? I’m okay with a Hawaiian pizza. I think it’s f—g tasty as hell. Why would you put limitations on life?”Christian Petroni, Creator of “Petroni’s Pizza Party”
Read the Q&A with Christian Petroni below and visit the “Petroni’s Pizza Party” drop page for more information.
“Tournament of Champions” just kicked off; what can we expect from this season?
“Tournament of Champions” is my favorite time of year. It’s become like the next Christmas for me. You get that sense of excitement, those tingles, the nervousness… I love “Tournament of Champions.” I love anything to do with Mr. Guy Fieri, and I can’t wait for you guys to see us coming in hot and heavy this year.
Can you tell us about your relationship with Guy?
Since winning “Food Network Star” [four] years ago, the same show Guy won 16 years ago, that was an immediate [connection] right there alone. Once we just started spending more and more time with each other, he’s truly become my big brother. He introduces me as his little brother and it’s like this family that I’m just so grateful to be able to contribute to, and be a part of. It’s not just Guy, it’s his beautiful wife Lori [and] my little brothers Hunter and Ryder. They are a fantastic family and that just makes my love for Guy grow even stronger, because of his family values. If someone like Guy can raise kids that sweet, that incredible and that f—g nice, then it makes me feel good about my future and my kids.
Speaking of family, tell us about your upbringing and how it affected your work.
I grew up on 241 St. and White Plains Road in the Bronx, nestled in between Westchester County, the Bronx and Mount Vernon — which is technically Westchester. We grew up in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood, [with] a lot of Guyanese and a lot of Jamaicans. We weren’t necessarily in the Italian-American neighborhood of the Bronx, which I’m very grateful for — growing up in a very diverse part of the Bronx, at that time. 241st and White Plains Road was us and a couple other Italian-American families that were first generation like me, and I loved it — going to get Jamaican beef patties and jerk chicken from this cat that would grill jerk snapper and jerk chicken in his driveway. People would line up for blocks. I’m very grateful for my Bronx upbringing, that didn’t rely 1,000% on just Italian-American heritage.
It affected my Italian cooking by keeping me way more open-minded and just free with my creativity, to not always feel like you got to be boxed into the way your nonna did it — even though that’s usually the best way. But to be able to do it my way is an honor as well. When I say my way, it’s not like I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I want to figure out a way to get from point A to point B in the most delicious and maybe not the most obvious way possible.
I understand you spent summers in Italy growing up too.
It was all kind of normal; I thought every kid in the Bronx spent summers in Italy. [We were] living with my grandparents, so my father could work and not have the weight of supporting the family [on his shoulders] at the same time. When the summer would roll around, we’d head out to visit my family on the island of Ponza off the coast of Naples — where we lived with Nonna, Nonno, my aunts and uncles. That’s where I was exposed to real, authentic island cuisine and island cooking.
That’s what makes my cooking style unique; not only did I grow up having dinner at five o’clock, at the dinner table at home in the Bronx — [I was also] able to experience truly authentic cooking [on] the island and from my relatives, [as well as] the red sauce joints [in] the Bronx. My dad would take us to the red sauce joints and we were exposed to that beautiful sort of red sauce “abbondanza” lifestyle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you consider yourself a traditionalist or more of a revolutionary, when it comes to Italian cooking?
I consider myself a maximalist, and a maximalist is essentially [someone who doesn’t follow] any rules — seasoning with authority, as my friend Chef Marc Murphy would say, and just not holding back when it comes to flavors, textures, acids [or] anything that’s going into a dish. In my opinion, you can keep a dish very simple, but still really push the envelope when it comes to ingredients or specific richness levels: salt levels, spice levels…
Let’s talk pizza. I know it’s usually New York vs. Chicago style pizza, but we both know that’s not a real debate. The real question: which borough makes the best slice and why?
I mean, is that even a question for me? It’s the Bronx, bro. You’ve got Louie & Ernie’s… These places in the Bronx are just legendary, you know? We’ve got to realize that, from Rome down, a big chunk of Southern Italians migrated to New York and ended up in all the boroughs — Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan — so it’s really hard to just be like, “This borough has something better than this one.” It’s more like, “Who’s got your favorite pizza and where do you like to go for your pizza pilgrimages?” You know?
That makes sense. You mentioned Louie & Ernie’s, but what are some of your personal favorite slices in New York? Any hidden gems?
Obviously, there’s fantastic pizza in New York City. If there’s a hidden gem, I’d say it’s one that’s right outside of [the city] in Greenwich, Connecticut — believe it or not. It’s called Grigg Street Pizza and what those boys are doing over there is probably my favorite pizza around, right now…
We’ve all heard that the reason New York has the best pizza is our water; in your expert opinion, how true is that?
You can make the same pizza anywhere in the world. Stop with the water. Next question.
[Laughs.] How do you feel about pineapple as a topping? Are there any less conventional unconventional toppings you go for?
Dude… Why is it okay to put spicy honey on a pizza, but we can’t put f—g pineapple on pizza? I’m okay with a Hawaiian pizza. I think it’s f—g tasty as hell. Why would you put limitations on life?
You know what it comes down to: things like sauce or gravy, right?
“You can’t call it sauce?”
“You can’t call it gravy?”
Who am I to tell you your nonna was wrong!
On the topic of pizza, why’d you decide to leave Fortina?
I didn’t really want to leave Fortina, but I’m really happy that I am no longer a part of that restaurant group. I’m very fortunate to be able to speak to some chefs that I’ve idolized for all my life — and when I tell them about what happened to me and my career, my life and my businesses, no one’s ever shocked. It’s something that happens to a lot of culinary talent. People see an easy target to prey on and there’s no higher pinnacle than owning a restaurant, so you’ll sign anything. I’m a perfect example of that. It’s easy to pull the wool over the eyes of a young, artistic, impressionable, hardworking person.
Tell us about Gabagool Media.
Gabagool Media is my way of taking everything that I’ve been able to learn in my life and my career — and the relationships with multimedia, restaurants, chefs, television [and] influencers [that I’ve built] — and surround ourselves with the best people in all those fields, having fun with this new world that we’re being thrust into…
Just the fact that the public is so much more in tune with what good food is and [is] actually going and finding it is incredible. I’m here in Miami right now — and it absolutely blows my mind, the amount of people that watch Food Network who came to Miami for [The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival] and are just so legitimately happy to meet someone like me. This is just what I’ve always wanted to do.
What inspired you to get into the NFT space?
I love the boys over at [streetwear brand] The Hundreds; I see them as some of the pioneers in this thing and I’m a fan of them. I love the bombs [and] have a few of them.
I love where the f—g world is going, with these new avenues of digital currency and artwork [that’s] protected on the blockchain. In this situation, the artists are getting paid, the chefs are getting paid — [as are the] cooks that are helping me with our NFT pizza party; they’re all getting paid because [collectors] purchase NFTs and open doors for us do more events like this. It will allow me to hire more creative people and keep doing this.
Can you detail the creative process of working with 8it and David Schwen on the project?
Well, listen, 8it is truly the driving force behind this Edible NFT project even happening. I love the idea of an NFT that you can actually eat. The obvious thing is the art — being able to link up [with] awesome artists like David and being able to create opportunities for people on our team. I wanted to link up with other forward-thinking creatives and start thinking in a way like [8it cofounder] Steve [Raggiani] is. To have someone like Steve, who is always ready to push the envelope and to be so willing to share this magic with someone like me, creates a great relationship.
We really wanted to do this first Edible NFT the right way and not over commit, and not jump onto the hype train. We want to give you guys some real cool art, throw a great pizza party, want you to eat some tasty pizza and get you some fun Gabagool stuff in the meantime — and you know, hopefully you have enough fun and like it enough that if we do something else, you’ll want to join us again.
How do you intend to build community around this project? How do you see it evolving?
I think about it as a members-only dining club. You buy the NFT, you [get] access to the party at a secret location — leaked in the Discord for NFT holders. We’ll have my signature garlic butter Sicilian pizza and a great vibe to connect my community of fans.
This makes sense for me. I’m not like this fly-by-night NFT person jumping on a bandwagon because I see this as a way to make a quick buck. I’m already doing pop-ups anyway, so I could presell tickets — and if you come to the event that’s fine. Or I can sell you the NFT and you get access to the Pizza Party, you get some rare swag and you’re going to own a piece of art that immortalizes the dish you ate at my pop-up forever. On top of that, you’re going to be part of a community that gets to vote on the next city for Pizza Party number two.
For me, and I think for a lot of other chefs, it’s not so much about making an NFT and just trying to sell it and move on with it. This is a way to help push forward our industry in a new way, utilizing the s—t that we’re doing anyway — so why not incorporate art into it, and some more meaningful benefits, to build a community?
Can you tell us any details about the secret family recipes you plan to airdrop collectors.
For starters, my marinara sauce, my mother’s braciole or lentil soup — or how to make, you know, some condimenti. I’ve got a deep catalog from all my trips back to the motherland.
Can you share any future plans, in the NFT space or otherwise?
I have a big vision for the future, and Pi Day is just the start of how I build my Gabagool community.
Everybody buy it.
Everybody love it.
And I’ll see you at the pizza party.
Browse the “Petroni’s Pizza Party” collection by Christian Petroni and 8it.
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Editor’s Note (Sept. 1, 2022): an earlier version of this article was originally published on the Crypto.com NFT Medium blog on March 7, 2022 and has since been edited and/or updated to republish.