When you’re born into a prolific Italian restaurant family spanning five generations, the bar is high for making your own mark in this world. But Eric Palmieri of D. Palmieri’s Bakery, located in Johnston, Rhode Island, has met that challenge with style as a pizza artist.
He creates designs that range from simple creations like sunflowers and roosters to a Baby Yoda pizza and even Heath Ledger’s Joker. Customers far and wide have admired his pizza art, especially during the recent National Pizza Week.
Palmieri’s pizza art reflects the pop-culture zeitgeist. His Baby Yoda pizza depicts the beloved character from The Mandalorian, complete with huge ears and a bemused expression. He has also captured David Bowie in full Ziggy Stardust mode and BB-8 from the current Star Wars films.
“As far as the most creative pizza I’ve made goes,” Palmieri says, “it’s probably a toss-up among either the Lady and the Tramp pizza, the Winifred Sanderson (a witch played by Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus) pizza, or the Predator pizza from Alien v. Predator.”
Palmieri said he had to figure out new techniques for using ingredients to achieve the looks he wanted. “At this point, I’m usually able to plot out exactly what kind of ingredients I’m going to use and how I’m going to manipulate them beforehand,” he says. “However, in the beginning, there was a lot of trial and error in developing my techniques,” he said.
Palmieri has always loved art but never studied it, especially not pizza art, so he’s entirely self-taught. It took him nearly four years to develop his skills, starting with the Patriots logo in 2016.
The most creative toppings he has used so far were blue and purple potatoes. “Both colors are hard to find elsewhere,” he says. “I used thinly sliced purple potatoes to a great effect in my Joker pizza, and I used mashed blue potatoes to make a Barcelona soccer logo. Unfortunately, the blue potatoes are really hard to find lately and not being able to use blue really limits what types of designs I can make.”
The hardest pizzas for him to make were portraits. “Human faces are incredibly difficult to do well using food,” he says. “Everyone’s face is extremely unique to them, and the slightest misstep can be the difference between good representation and bad representation.”
The price per commission depends on the level of detail the customer wants. Palmieri works closely with customers to accommodate their budgets and dietary preferences. A basic work of pizza art will cost $59.99, and a more detailed rendition will usually cost around $89.99, with numerous pies falling in between.
Outside of commissions, Palmieri tries to make one or two new designs per week. “I love what I do and I really try to not go too long without making something new,” he says. “I’m always working hard to develop new skills and techniques in order to improve the look and quality of my designs.”
For a fifth-generation baker, Palmieri’s basic pizza know-how came from growing up in the business, but the passion came after college graduation. “I studied music composition at the Colorado College and had no plans to make a career out of baking,” he says. “But after a devastating fire destroyed the business in July 2007, I found myself with a newfound love and appreciation for the bakery that I didn’t really have before. I don’t think I ever fully realized how much our bakery meant to the customers when I was younger, some of whom had been coming for decades. In the days following the fire, the outpouring of support and grief from customers over the loss of the bakery was overwhelming and humbling.”
Callie Daniels Bryant is PMQ’s associate editor.