After covering the mountain of dough with saran wrap, Toullec locates a kitchen scale to begin portioning it into serving sizes. Once divided, it will make about 90 different pizzas. Being the only qualified pizzaiolo in Halifax’s newest pizzeria usually means 20-hour workdays, but Toullec says it’s the passion for cooking that gets him through.
“Love is the key of everything I try to do,” he says. “When I put something on the table, I guarantee you that this is my heart.”
As Toullec dusts flour off his black sweatshirt, stained with dried dough, he explains that there are several different types of Italian-style pizza. At Lou Pécou, he serves “classica” or Rome-style, not the Naples-style that first comes to mind when you think of Italian pies.
“I like to say there's probably 20 or 30 different kinds of pizza officially,” says Toullec. “Neopolitan is cooking 60 seconds, the hydration is high, while mine, it takes three, four minutes to bake, and the hydration is really lower than that. So it's not at all the same experience.”
The dough is firm after cooking, so when you pick up a slice, it doesn’t droop. Toullec says it’s also more easily digestible and has less salt in the crust: “When you're done, you don't feel full or bloated and you won't be thirsty.”
Every ingredient is sourced intentionally, there’s no cutting corners to save costs. The flour is either 0 or 00 from La Milanaise in Quebec, but since “the dough is just the plate at the end of the day,” the real stars of the show are the toppings. This includes local ingredients like meats and cheeses sourced from Ratinaud mushrooms from Maritime Gourmet, a house habanero oil, and sundried tomatoes that take five hours to dry and 24 hours to marinate.
These ingredients finish off pizzas like the classic margherita, the four cheese and Toullec’s favourite, the Royale—topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms, white ham, Emmental cheese, olives and an egg. All varieties are only available in one size, 13-inch, from 11am to 10pm Wednesday through Sunday.
Hailing from Marseille, in the south of France, Toullec worked in retail for years when he first came to Canada. At one point, he sold shoes. But eventually, Toullec was drawn back to his roots. “I always had this vision that I would open a pizzeria because it’s the perfect mix for me between being a chef and pastry,” he says. “And my best memories are with pizza, in my life.”
Travelling to his hometown, Toullec began training with a mentor—world-famous pizzaiolo John Berg. Five years in, Toullec began the process of opening his own restaurant here in Halifax. After months of construction (overheard through the adjacent walls of The Coast office) and unavoidable COVID-related delays, Lou Pécou finally opened in early January 2022.
The pizzeria’s name translates to “the peduncle,” in Provençal. “It's a word that that reached me in my deepest memory,” says Toullec, as he envisions himself as a young boy in Marseille, being raised by his grandmother.
“One of my favourite things was to sit on the counter or the table and to watch her cooking,” says Toullec. She’d make lasagna, salad and, of course, pizza. When he was around the age of seven, Toullec asked if she’d teach him to cook, and was surprised when she sternly said no. But the following day, she woke him up at 4:30 in the morning, telling the sleepy young boy that the first step to being a good cook was being first at the farmers’ market in the morning.
Mami, as Toullec calls her, taught him how to select products based on their look and feel, specifically that of the peduncle—the part of the vegetable where it had been attached to the plant. “You need to be able to recognize if the fruit is local, ripe and organic, and when it was picked, how far it travelled,” Toullec says. “The first thing she taught me was to smell it, to look at it, to identify the colour and to feel it.”
As his thoughts leave Mami’s kitchen and return to his north end shop, Toullec says that childhood memory stuck with him throughout life. “This knowledge that my grandma told me, you need to pick the right ingredients, that will be always something that’s going to follow me.”