Expert Pizza Chef Daniele Uditi Reveals Details About His New Series Best In Dough - Exclusive Interview

Chef Daniele Uditi did not have an easy time when he first came to the United States to pursue a cooking career. Uditi left his home country of Italy for Los Angeles and was living out of his van for months while trying to sell his pizza as a street vendor to earn enough cash to live. He told us in an exclusive interview that it was a difficult time for him, but he's so thankful for the opportunities those struggles would later lead to.

In a true Hollywood story, the Naples native started working at a restaurant where he was discovered — except this time, it was by an actor and not an agent. "NCIS: Los Angeles" star Chris O'Donnell tried Uditi's pizza and knew the chef had something special. From there, doors began opening for the talented cook, and now Uditi helms the hugely successful Pizzana, which currently has multiple locations and is continuing to expand.

His expertise in incredible-tasting pizza also makes him the perfect candidate to be a judge on the new Hulu series "Best in Dough," in which three contestants compete to create the best pizza. The winner of each episode wins bragging rights and takes home $10,000 in cash. The show is full of funny moments — like opinionated grandmas who don't like being told how to cook — and features delicious-looking tomato pies that you'll want to recreate at home. The last few episodes of the season were just released this week, and Uditi told us what fans can expect.

What viewers will see on the new show

"Best in Dough" features a lot of enticing pizzas. What was the best pie you had while filming?

One that is very memorable was from David from Pizza John. The dough was crispy, and I even like the one that he put ketchup on. He could have skipped ketchup, but I'm a Philly cheesesteak sucker. The second pie that he made with the melted cheese and rib eye was so good.

In one episode, you said pineapple doesn't belong on a pizza, but you seemed to be converted by a contestant's version she made. Have you changed your mind about pineapple on pizza?

At least it was fresh pineapple. What I hate is pineapple out of a can and throwing it on a pizza. I like to make this joke: Anytime somebody puts pineapple on a pizza, an Italian man goes to heaven. I was also trying to be very nice. Was it my favorite? No, absolutely not. It didn't taste horrible, not really. It tasted okay, but if I had to change my mind on pineapple pizza, you'd have to work a little bit harder.

You get a lot of interesting contestants on the series. Did anyone stand out to you?

Do we have to name? It's Nonna Lina, come on.

Nonna Lina reminds me of my grandma when I was a kid and I was trying to pick in the kitchen and prep. She was prepping delicious meals, but I was bothering her and she would say, "Get out. Get out. Let me work. My God, what do you want?" She even said that she wanted to slap me. It's great.

A funny thing about the episode — the production hired a translator to translate from Italian to English — because they spoke English, but they spoke broken English, some of them, especially Nonna Lina. Nonna Lina is from close to Naples. She was speaking my language because we speak Neapolitan. It's a different language from Italian, and at the end of the day, the translator was asking me to translate for him what Nonna Lina was saying. That was hilarious.

It seems like you and host Wells Adam also have great chemistry on the show. What's it like filming together?

We became best friends. After we finished filming the show, Wells invited me to his wedding, and it was natural. We first met on Zoom while we were pitching the show. We were finding the host, and Wells [and I] started trash-talking to each other, but in a good way. It was just there; it's like a brotherhood. I love him to death. He also makes good drinks. I need somebody that makes good drinks in my life.

Daniele Uditi explains what makes the best pizza and how he was discovered

During an episode of "Best in Dough," you were able to make a homemade pizza in just 15 minutes, which was very impressive. What ingredients do you think make the best pizza in the shortest amount of time?

You have to go for straight, fresh ingredients. When you want to make pizza [in] a very small amount of time, first of all, make sure that your dough already is proofed. You already have the dough ready. For fresh ingredients, go for simple ingredients — fresh tomato sauce that you crush with your hand, a little bit of salt, herbs, basil, oregano, [and] garlic — something that has a pop of flavor without you going and doing so much to [those] ingredients. [The best pizzas have] fresh ingredients, very flavorful ingredients, and ingredients that wake you up with a slap.

You mentioned in the series that you moved to LA from Italy, and you were living out of your van while you were trying to make money selling pizzas. Can you tell me a little more about what that time was like?

Honestly, I don't want to remember with a sad eye. It's an experience, and it fortified [me]. I [was] alone in a new country, not speaking the language. I had to figure out how to start everything from scratch. It would make me [stronger] approaching the other challenge that I had to do in the United States. So I did this — I tried to find a solution. I built my first portable oven out of a kettle grill, and I was selling pizza without permits. Sorry about that, but I had to make a living.

Then [word] spread, and I got a job in a restaurant. The people came to eat at the restaurant to try the pizza. Chris O'Donnell noticed me and he loved the pizza. He had built a pizza oven in his house, and then from Chris O'Donnell, everything started. [Word] spread in all of Hollywood.

Where did Chris O'Donnell first try your pizza?

I was in a restaurant on 26th Street and San Vicente. It was a new restaurant. I forgot the name — it was [a] very long time ago. He came because there was a review from the LA Magazine as one of the best pizzas in the neighborhood. A lot of people started to come to try it, and Chris O'Donnell came to try the pizza, and he [said], "You know what? You're good. You want to teach me how to make pizza at home? I just built a brick oven in my house." And we started. I tried to teach him, but he was more interested in hanging out with his friend than actually learning how to make pizza. It's more interesting eating it than learning it.

What made LA a place where you wanted to stay once you were here?

It reminds me so much of Naples. The weather is almost the same. The people are very friendly over here, and everybody seems to be very relaxed and happy. That's what we say in Naples, before [saying], "Come on, we're late, we have to go to work," [we say,] "Please, first I drink a coffee, and then if I want, I'm going to go to work."

How his restaurant Pizzana is different from others

When you first opened your restaurant Pizzana, how did you want it to be different from other eateries?

Talking with [co-owners] Candace and Charles, I told them what I was doing in Italy with my family, and it was a different style of pizza, cooked at a lower temperature perfect for sharing and focused on local produce. Pizzana is different because we not only do pizza in a different way, we take advantage of tradition and make it our own. I traveled with my starter, which is now 66 years old, in my suitcase, and research of ingredients goes from sourcing local to having our own tomato plot in the countryside of Naples that produces tomatoes just for Pizzana. Pizzana is different in many, many ways, from the first bite to the last.

What did it feel like to have a tough food critic like Jonathan Gold compare your pizza to the best in the world?

First of all, I had the pleasure to sit down with Jonathan and talk to him. I was talking to him about Los Angeles, and he explained so many things, so much food heritage that is in Los Angeles. I was in awe listening to this encyclopedia of knowledge of food. Then, he tasted the whole menu. He came three or four times, and it was like a hug to my heart, because it wasn't a critique — it was a love letter. If you read the review, it's very romantic. It was shocking to me.

The person that read the review to me was like, "Oh my God." We both hug each other and start to cry. We didn't even have the time to understand the feeling that we went through because after the Jonathan Gold review, the restaurant had a huge line out of the door of people that wanted to try. If Pizzana is successful, I owe it to Jonathan Gold as well.

The chef that Daniele Uditi would want to have cook him dinner and the ingredient he can't live without

As someone who's traveled the world trying different cuisines like you have, who is the one chef you'd want to cook you dinner?

There's so many. One of my greatest inspirations when I came to the United States was Wolfgang Puck. That guy has almost the same [story], even more because of his childhood — he struggled, and he found so much strength when he came to the United States, and he built himself up. I would love to meet him. I go to his restaurants, but I never had the pleasure to meet the legend. Wolfgang Puck is one of them.

Also, Francis Mallmann works with fire, and I have so many books of his. There is my mentor in Italy, Rosanna Marziale — I spent a little time learning from her and Antonino Cannavacciuolo, [who] is one of the chef stars in Italy that is from Naples. He's such an amazing guy.

What is one ingredient you could never live without?

Flour. I'm Italian — if they take away flour from me, all the carbs, I don't have reason to exist.

Carbs are delicious. What is your go-to fast food order, and at which restaurant?

I would say burgers. One is from In-N-Out. My order is 4x4 animal style because I go all the way in.

I [also like] Mexican food and Asian food over here. [For] Mexican food, I go to a place called Mercado on 4th Street in Santa Monica. I like the jicama street tacos, [and] he has one of the best carnitas you can ever have. The flan — oh my God. It's inspired me to do pizzas at the restaurant too. I did an elote callejero pizza, like a sweet corn pizza. I did one with chorizo jalapeño. There's a lot of influences that go into my recipes right now because the city has become part of who I am.

Is there anything else you want to add or any other projects you want to talk about?

The last four episodes of "Best in Dough" are airing soon, and I can't wait for everybody to see it. It's going to be fancy food — pinkies up, people — and Chicago talks. It's going to be so much fun. I hope that everybody enjoys the show as much as I enjoy shooting it because you can see I'm always smiling, I'm always happy. I'm surrounded by my favorite food on earth, and hopefully, it's the favorite food on earth of everybody watching the show.

You can watch the final episodes of "Best in Dough," now streaming on Hulu.

This interview has been edited for clarity.