By Alexandra Mortati, Women In Pizza

Javiera Contardo has always loved food. Part of her always suspected she’d come to the food industry later in life.

“I have an Italian family (my Nonna comes from Naples and my Nonno comes from the north coast) and we’ve been making pasta and pizza forever,” Javiera said. “It was the reason we came together. All my cousins and family have studied things related to food and hotels except for me. I’ve loved it since I was very young, but I thought I would be in the food industry when I was very old.”

It seems like kismet that Javiera found her way to it earlier in life than she had expected. She had begun a career at age 18 as a tele-producer for companies like Live National and Cirque du Soleil in her home country of Chile.

Related: Meet the Woman Who Started a Pizza Truck Before It Was Cool

“It was fun to work on concerts and be a producer.” Javiera said. “My job was to make the talent’s life easy in Chile. I’d handle passports, dinners, hotels, documentation at the airport for their private flights, coordination, logistics, et cetera. I worked in TV for a lot of years, but emotionally, it was a lot. When you begin very young, you get to a point where you want to change your life.”

Because she was worn down from working in television, Javiera ended up starting four different companies in 2015. The respective companies were based in real estate, logistics and selling health foods to retailers.

“But on the side, I always made bread and pizza for fun,” Javiera recalled. “I did a lot of courses just to prepare a good product at home. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and I had to close my companies, my family said to me, ‘you should do what you’ve always done for fun!’”

Javiera took their advice and studied with an AVPN instructor. She took a 10-day online course and found that the pandemic was giving her the time to truly fall in love with pizza: the history of the food, the industry that makes it for a living and the tight-knit community that is made up of pizza makers.

“You can really collaborate online,” Javiera said. “Last year, I took it more seriously and created a brand called (pronounced ‘dough’). We make pizza, pasta—it really gives us no limit. I wanted to make it a brand and not use my name so that it doesn’t depend and center only on me. Now, we are six girls making pizza and running a catering service. We teach classes for fun to people and companies. That’s our business here. I’m happy doing what I do right now which is service and making people have an experience.”

This photo shows Javiera Contardo, arms crossed, in a white chef's coat.

Courtesy of Javiera Contardo

Pizza has always been a popular food in Chile, but the styles have evolved thanks to the pandemic. In particular, the pizza scene in Santiago—Chile’s capital city, which also happens to be the largest city in the country—has exploded since the pandemic, Javiera said, also pointing out that the Neapolitan-style, in particular, seems to have taken off.

“Everyone has Oonis here, so they began to have their own little business, or their pizzeria changed to Neapolitan,” Javiera said. “Now, Neapolitan is the most popular style. Before, there were a lot of pizzerias, but we only ate pizzas that were American. Chile has a lot of big chains like Little Caesars, but we don’t have New York-style pizza [necessarily]. Now, Pizza in Teglia is getting a little famous. People really like it because it’s crunchy and different.”

Javiera said she is focused on bringing other styles and cultures to Chile. She sees a future where Chileans have a lot of options—from Neopolitan pizza to Roman-style pizza to everything in between. One of the ways she’s trying to help achieve this is by promoting other pizza makers she comes across to her fervent following of over 18,000 people between her two Instagram handles.

“The part that opens people’s eyes in class is when you talk about the history or some piece of information they didn’t know,” Javiera said. “I went to AVPN in Naples last year. I had been trained online and I thought, ‘now I have to go there.’ I stopped in Miami on my way to Naples and visited some Neapolitan pizzerias and recorded my visits to make a little interview for YouTube. I just studied online with @massimilianosaieva and more than the recipe, I asked him the when and where of Roman style pizza. It’s a story to tell and what I’d really like is to bring that history here and get together with people who didn’t get together before.”

Javiera’s travels also brought her to Buenos Aires, where she created videos showcasing some great pizzerias. She also traveled to Atlanta for an AVPN-affiliated event in Atlanta and took a “pizza tour” in New York. All of these stops have helped Javiera learn new things about pizzas—all of which seh shares with her followers.

“I’m a producer in my profession,” Javiera said. “I know how to record and edit. I’ve always done it, so I thought, ‘how can I combine this with pizza?’”

Javiera’s travels have made her aware of cultural preferences, too. For her, personally, she’s found that she prefers traditional Italian toppings, but she tries to offer some that are “suited to Chile.”

“We have gotten very used to Pizza Hut and American toppings, so we try to offer the best of both worlds,” Javiera explained. “In Chile, we love pepperoni, so we couldn’t not offer pepperoni on our pizza. In the catering service, we think the client is the most important person and want to make them happy with the pizzas they like. But you adapt depending on what country or culture you are in and what the people love.”

One of the challenges that Javiera has faced is that, for as much as she has loved the international pizza community’s collaborative spirit, the Chilean pizza scene is fledgling enough that building a great team in Santiago hasn’t come easily. Still, it’s something Javiera is determined to do.

“Making a really cool team is the most important part for me right now,” Javiera said. “I’m trying to create a team that goes and competes in other places. We have had more than 500 students in Napoletana. I have a WhatsApp group where we talk a lot and help beyond the class. I’m making another type of class where I help them learn how to make dough balls really fast and I teach them how to put pizzas in the oven fast, how to stretch in a more professional way, how to turn the pizza in the oven—all the critical parts of the pizza process to make them better and prepare for a future Chilean team.”

It’s significant that Javiera is a female pizza maker. She has found that it hasn’t affected her negatively, though—quite the opposite, in fact.

“Being a woman has had a very big effect in a positive way,” Javiera said. “They don’t have any problems with me because I don’t have any problems with anyone…or because I’m a girl. It’s helped. In some funny ways, when I went to Naples with a little camera, they’d see me and be like, ‘you can come here.’ When there are too many guys there, they come and are nice to me. Now, when I went to Naples after Las Vegas, I saw a big change. ‘She’s a girl but she’s also good. She can make a good pizza.’ The attitude is absolutely different, but I won it because of my work and not because of my gender.”

Javiera has learned a lot of lessons along the way. One of the things she’d recommend to any pizza maker coming up in the industry—female or not—is to be authentic and to always be open to learning more.

“Just be you,” Javiera said. “Study a lot. Learn a lot. I’m never going to stop learning. Even in a basic class you might still learn something. Just keep learning and share information. That makes us different and makes a difference. I think at the end of the day, I see that there is a big community that wants to have a good relationship and share information.”

Javiera wants to continue to be a part of that community of learning, too. In particular, she would love to continue teaching.

“I’d love to have AVPN classes in Latin America and a place where they can make a connection and bring the real Naples to Chile,” Javiera said. “I would like to be on the side of a teaching academy and maybe a pizzeria someday. I don’t see myself doing the same thing every day, so I love the dynamic of working with different people and pizzerias.”

Javiera is living proof that following your passion can lead to wonderful—if unexpected— results. As a growing superstar in the pizza space, it’s clear she’s come a long way from her days in television.

“In general, the life I had before, in the business world with my companies, or with the lights of television and concerts, this was very different from where I am right now, and I couldn’t be happier.” Javiera said.

Alexandra Mortati is the marketing director for Orlando Foods and founder of Women In Pizza, a not-for-profit organization that empowers women in the pizza industry to share their stories, display their talents, inspire innovations, and connect with one another and the world. This article originally appeared on the Instagram account for Women In Pizza. Click here to learn more about the organization.

Marketing, Pizzerias