Rob Cervoni of Mineola's Taglio, as seen on "Chopped."

Rob Cervoni of Mineola's Taglio, as seen on "Chopped." Credit: Food Network / Dawn Hoffmann

A celebrated Long Island pizzaiolo competes Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Food Network's "Chopped," going up against three other pizza chefs for the episode's $10,000 prize.

"Long Island pizza is its own scene," says Rob Cervoni, 35, of Franklin Square, whose shop, Taglio, in Mineola specializes in Roman-style pizza. "We get overlooked because we're so close to Brooklyn and Manhattan," two pizza destinations, "but some of the best pizzerias and some of the best pizza makers are from Long Island," he says. "What I get out of this whole 'Chopped' experience is that I'm able to represent pizza on Long Island in a positive light and hopefully get some respect for Long Island pizza."

While there is no "Long Island-style" pizza distinct from the usual Neapolitan, Sicilian, Chicago deep-dish and Detroit styles, he concedes — "Maybe Grandma-style is Long Island-style pizza?" he suggests — Cervoni is helping to popularize the relatively rare Roman-style, which resembles flatbread but is thicker yet simultaneously airier due to its highly hydrated dough that is given a long rise of up to 96 hours.

Born in Lake Success and raised in Great Neck, Cervoni at age 23 had opened, with the help of family financing, a 16 Handles frozen-yogurt franchise in the latter village. He ran it for eight years before leaving to try something new. "I always was into pizza, always loved making pizza at home," he says, having grown up with a wood-fired oven in his family's backyard. "But I didn't want to be like every other pizzeria on Long Island — I wanted to do something artisanal."

The 2006 Great Neck South High School graduate, who went on to a business degree from Lynn University in Florida, had eaten Roman-style pizza during summers in the second-generation Italian's ancestral town, Boville Ernica. But he only was inspired to learn to make it after seeing it at a pizza expo in 2016, he says. The style had had its first major exposure in the United States not long before, via Roman restaurateur Gabriele Bonci's first American outpost, Bonci, in Chicago; even today only a few Long Island restaurants, including King Umberto in Elmont, have offered it.

Mastering the recipe and the intricacies of Roman-style pizza's highly wet, hard-to-work-with dough took two weeks, Cervoni says, under mentor Massimiliano Saieva. Cervoni subsequently opened Taglio — a play on "al taglio," Italian for "by the cut" or "by the slice," as Roman pizza is known in Rome — in September 2018. After a false start as a regular slice shop that also served artisanal pizza, Cervoni and business partner Domenico “Mimmo” Tolomeo in late 2021 began to focus on the fancy. Cervoni quickly became one of Pizza Today magazine's seven Rising Stars of the Pizzeria Industry 2022. Newsday has also included Taglio in its roundup of Long Island's best pizza.

The son of former Weeden & Co. chief financial officer Robert Cervoni, of Westbury, and Diane Peters, of Great Neck, Cervoni the younger was recruited by "Chopped" last year. After a series of Zoom interviews, he shot his episode in October at Food Network's Manhattan studio.

He will be watching it with his wife, aesthetician Samantha Gaudino Cervoni, and their 2-year-old son but not at home: As coincidence has it, the episode airs during the first night of the 39th annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, where they will be.

"Which is a wild coincidence," Rob Cervoni says, chuckling. "I mean, honestly, I wish it wasn't the case because I'd really like to watch it with my [parents and extended] family and not just a bunch of pizza people that I barely know," he adds. "But it's fun either way."

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