All Roads Lead to Pizza: An Interview With Kermit’s Gianni Grifoni, Marine Biologist-Turned-Pizzaiolo
Much has been said about Kermit Surf Resort and Restaurant––it’s practically synonymous with Siargao. Naturally, founder Gianni Grifoni has also made waves by extension. Pun intended.
Gianni is somewhat of a modern Renaissance man. A cursory Google search will tell you that opening a pizza place was not in his initial plan when he first arrived on Siargao’s shores in 2005. He actually came here to work as a marine biologist.
And yet, there appeared to be signs that Gianni was always meant to pursue his culinary agenda. First of all, he grew up in restaurants or enotecas where good wine and fresh pastas were served. He then wanted to take up culinary in university, but his parents urged him to get a degree in science. As fate would have it, his passions overlapped in none other than a little island in the Philippines.
Kermit was originally going to be just a couple of bungalows with a small kitchen, but from what you likely know, it has become an institution in its own right. Gianni claims that it was all happenstance: “I got lucky. Right place, right time.” However, it’s evident that his foresight and natural confidence have allowed him to take chances that not many people would. When he opened Kermit’s maiden branch, there was nothing else like it in Siargao. Although if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Pizza is the ideal post-surf treat; the communal nature of sharing a pizza fits right in with the laid back, no-frills vibe of island life.
Gianni making pizzas in Kermit. Photos from Kermit Siargao Website.
Kermit not only serves the best pizza on the island, but according to Condé Nast Traveller Food Magazine, they serve up “what might be the best pizza and fresh made pastas in the country.” They have since opened a Kermit in Manila, finding their urban home in Poblacion. Last February, they opened a branch in another surfers’ haven: La Union.
It was here that Gianni’s interest in Ooni would prove useful. About a year ago, he came across the Ooni brand and took a liking to their ovens. “I bought it from the United States and had it shipped over here. It arrived in July––in the middle of the pandemic.” Initially, he and his wife thought of putting their Ooni in a van, driving around, and making some pizzas for fun. “We even gave it a nickname: Quarantino pizza oven.”
The opportunity to open a Kermit branch in La Union came around after being in the pipeline for quite some time. Its kitchen space was relatively small compared to both Siargao and Manila, and the traditional pizza ovens from Italy would not fit. Gianni found a way to make it work––it turns out that the Ooni Pro was the missing piece to make their La Union venture a success. Their third branch has had excellent reception, even in the midst of the pandemic.
Out of curiosity, I ask if changing the oven affects the outcome of their pizzas, especially in contrast with his other two branches. Gianni assures me that there is absolutely no difference––“it’s the same taste and everything.” He claims that it’s actually a lot easier to cook in an Ooni. “It can make eighty to a hundred pizzas a day. It’s a trooper!”
Gianni making pizzas on his Ooni Pro. Courtesy of his Instagram page.
Gianni notes how he still has to adapt to his surroundings, depending on where he’s making pizza. Variables differ per location, from the climate to the availability of ingredients. “More locations means more learning for me,” he says.
Despite the pandemic working against his favor, Gianni is confident that they can continue on with their future plans––and perhaps even open a new location in the northern part of the country. One day, we might even come across their Quarantino oven on wheels. But for now, he will continue doing what he does best: improvising on the fly and serving up the country’s best pizzas.
The very fact that he took my call from the airport while waiting for his flight to Siargao, with announcements on full blast and choppy signal getting the best of us, is testament to his generosity. Gianni exudes so much warmth and kindness, it’s no wonder that he has found a home in the Philippines.
Although he claims that the dough is the secret to a good pizza, Gianni’s dedication to his craft, love for the community he’s built, and the desire to share it with customers old and new are the real ingredients to Kermit’s success.