In 2009, Mamma Jamma Pizzaria Rústica opened in Jardim Botânico and is now responsible for feeding the non-stop but occasionally fickle carioca crowds, who come in their droves to this corner of the Lagoa to get their pizza fix. The woman behind that success is pizza chef Maria Valmira, otherwise known simply as Val.
She worked at the renowned São Paulo pizzeria A Tal da Pizza for years before heading to Europe to study culinary preparation techniques, sauces and ingredients as well as further developing her passion for olive oil. Yes, there really are haute-cuisine pizzarias in this city. Utterly charming and ever-smiling, Val spoke to Time Out about her love for pizza, olive oil, Rio and Europe.
What brought you to Jardim Botânico?
In 2009, I was invited to open a restaurant in Rio and leapt on the opportunity. Since then, I have become both a partner and head chef, creating a special, unique menu for Mamma with homemade pastas (lovingly prepared for five days), and lots and lots of olive oil.
Have you always loved pizza?
Always, but I like good pizza, not those rubbery ones. When I started making pizza, I had a purpose: to make people feel the personality of each flavour. I wanted to help others expand their culinary horizons.
Was it a challenge to get Mamma Jamma started?
It was a huge responsibility making Mamma happen in Rio. Because of this, we took six months just to plan out the name and concept of the place. We wanted to make square pizza, like they do in Italy. In the beginning, the idea was for the customers to eat with their hands, but the idea wasn’t very well received by the Cariocas, so we had to adapt. In São Paulo, it works out well, but it’s a different culture there.
So, what is the secret - what makes your pizzas different?
Olive oil is my second greatest passion – after pizza, of course. We use more than 38 special brands in the kitchen, hand-picked. My business partner always wants to kill me because I come back from abroad with thousands of bottles, but it’s one of my secrets. The combination of olive oil and pizza is simply perfect. I’m always travelling, keeping up-to-date inventing new pizzas, new combinations. I never stop, I’m always changing the menu.