Little Place Big Taste

By Mary Lou Janson / Photography By Bob Thompson | April 01, 2015
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Chef Greg Seymour
Chef Greg Seymour

Guests arriving at Pizzeria Gregario may cast only passing glances at the tall, bearded fellow calling out warm greetings while carefully orchestrating the dinner orders. He skillfully works the dough, carefully ladles the house-made sauce and hand-selects fresh or made-from-scratch toppings for every pie prior to placing them in the wood-burning oven by his side.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that this pizza-maker is more likely to sport a t-shirt than the white chef’s jacket he’s earned. Prior to opening his Safety Harbor pizzeria in 2014, Greg Seymour first worked in a kitchen to earn money to play video games at a local arcade. Fascinated with food – both where it comes from and how to prepare it – he enrolled in a vocational school culinary program to acquire the basic skills that helped him transition from cleaning dishes to cooking, then crisscrossed the country for the next three decades, from fine dining establishments in New York and Boston to acclaimed cafes in Northern California’s wine country.

He gained experience and gradually moved up the cooking ranks before the idea of teaching other chefs convinced him to enroll in the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at age 38. In 2011, with degree in hand and a perfect 4.0 GPA, he became convinced that the kitchen – not the classroom – was where he was meant to be.

PERFECTING THE PIE

A pivotal point in Greg’s career coincided with his time in the Napa Valley region. Hired as sous chef at Tra Vigne Restaurant in historic St. Helena, California, he was tasked with turning around its sister venture, a pizzeria that seemed destined for failure.

“I researched and read everything I could find,” recalls Greg, whose quest to understand what it takes to make authentic, classic Italian pizzas took him from San Francisco’s North Beach to Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

“I did not know good pizza and I had just one shot to get it right.”

Accompanied by the Napa pizzeria’s business partners, who were wary of losing any more money, Greg took a tasting trip to an unlikely locale – Phoenix. Here was the domain of acclaimed Chef Chris Bianco – a James Beard “Best Chef” award recipient who is credited with influencing and inspiring untold numbers of chefs aspiring to specialize in artisanal pizzas.

He left Arizona knowing what to do but not yet how to do it.

Eventually, hours on the phone with Bianco explaining his theory and philosophy for creating pizza crust motivated Greg to try once more to make the perfect pie.

“Pizza humbled me. It’s just water, flour, salt and leavening. But I was used to failing.

“This time when we re-opened, it was a home run.”

Ingredients used
Pizzeria Gregario's Pizza
Chef Greg Seymour with pizza oven

WE DO IT FOR YOU

When it came time to open his own restaurant, he was lured back to the community where he’d spent vacations growing up. His mother and three of four siblings call Safety Harbor home, so the cozy, casual pizza place in a converted house has now become a family affair, employing not only its chef and founder, but his twin brother and sister, Corey Seymour and Cristin Hernandez.

The restaurant is named, not for a person as you might easily assume, but for an Italian phrase that loosely translates to “we do it for you.” Now in its second year, Pizzeria Gregario has already earned a spot on the Tampa Bay Times’ list of Top 50 Restaurants in the Tampa Bay Area, and Creative Loafing crowned the restaurant’s signature margherita the Best Italian Pizza in Pinellas County.

“The accolades we have received are a byproduct of the intention behind what we do,” says Greg.

And what are those intentions? Only the best. Like creating the best possible pizza from a sourdough starter Greg has cultivated since his days in culinary school, sourcing locally grown, sustainably farmed ingredients, or making his own mozzarella cheese, sausages, salad dressings and ice cream.

It also means operating a business that takes responsibility for its impact on the environment. For example, diners discover a chalkboard menu that displaces printed versions. Water is provided on a self-serve basis to minimize waste. And, because Greg lives where he works, he’s able to bicycle his two-mile daily commute.

Though Pizzeria Gregario is just beginning, Greg is eager to bring more variety to his adopted hometown of Safety Harbor and is already considering expanding. Among his considerations – a soup counter or a small shop featuring the same ice cream that diners already devour when indulging in the pizzeria’s sole dessert, an ice cream sandwich.

But for now, focus is on what he does best. “I’m just a guy making pizzas … I want to make the best I can within these four walls. I want to honor the craft, source the way we do. We use what comes to us in a positive way and hope that impacts others. It’s a journey.”

Pizzeria Gregario, 400 2nd Street North, Safety Harbor, 727-386-4107, pizzeriagregario.com

Article from Edible Tampa Bay at http://edibletampabay.ediblecommunities.com/eat/little-place-big-taste
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