All Daniela Moreira has to work with at Timber Pizza is a wood-fired oven. Well, that and a handful of ingredients. It’s a challenge that Moreira faces every day at Timber in the Petworth neighborhood of D.C., where she serves as executive chef. But it’s one that Moreira accepts with open arms: Figuring out how to cook something amazing with minimal materials is all just part of the thrill.
“I always like a challenge, and I’ve always been very, very competitive.” Moreira says. “Especially when it comes to pizza.” She grew up eating pizza — her brother is the one who taught her how to make it when they were growing up in Argentina, where Moreira was born. “When I was little, I would have contests with my brother to see who could make the best pizza,” she says. “In my head I know I’m better, even though he refuses to admit it.” Her uncle, too, contributed to her choosing a career in the industry.
Though he’s since died of complications from HIV, his legacy left an impact on not only her, but Argentina as well. At the time, HIV was highly stigmatized in Argentina; people were of the virus and of those who had it. While fighting for his own life, her uncle opened up restaurants across the country with one mission: to hire HIV sufferers who could not get work elsewhere.
“Growing up I saw what my uncle was doing every day, and he showed me that I could do anything, that nothing could stop me,” she remembers. “He fought for himself and others every single day.”
Inspired by the legacy of her uncle, Moreira has big plans for the future, one that includes a Timber outpost in Argentina. Though the plan most likely won’t be put into motion for another five years or so, Moreira can still dream that one day she and her Timber business partners will bring their wood-fired menu to her home country.
Considering her dream to launch her business into another continent, it’s surprising to learn that, as an eight-year-old, Moreira hated her time spent working at her mother’s restaurant. “She’d put me to work. She’d have me make empanadas and all the stuff that she didn’t want to make.” Then again, of course she hated it; she was young. And it’s evident from her ties to her family and culture — her favorite pizza is still fugazzeta, a traditional stuffed Argentine version that comes bursting with mozzarella, covered in onions, and seasoned with oregano and olive oil — that background in restaurants has influenced her greatly.
Fast forward to a little over a decade later, and Moreira found herself in New York City working at Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park. New York, however, just wasn’t inspiring her; she kept thinking back to her time at culinary school in D.C. after she left Argentina. Even before she left D.C. for New York, Moreira knew she wanted to make the city home. “I have everything I want in D.C. and I can learn from everybody. There are people from El Salvador, Ethiopia, South Africa,” Moreira says about her community in the nation’s capital, “and I just didn’t get that in New York.
Now back in D.C., which Moreira considers a “small town,” Timber Pizza is thriving. In 2016, she was a key figure in opening the company’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant, after she discovered the business the year before at the Georgetown University farmers market. After buying a pizza, she went on her way and was surprised to find her now-business partners Andrew Dana and Chris Brady cooking and serving pizza at a different farmers market the very next day. They struck up a conversation, exchanged info, and made pies for each other.
Then, after some courting by Dana and Brady, Moreira joined the founders to create the Timber of today, which has evolved beyond a farmers market stall into serving new and loyal customers what they call “Neopolitan-ish” pizza — Moreira’s now a co-owner of the restaurant. The brunch at Timber has become a popular staple in Petworth, with breakfast empanadas — on the menu thanks to Moreira, and cooked at the restaurant in that same wood-fired oven along with bagels, biscuits, and other pastries. And in an unintentional nod to its roots, Timber still sources all of its ingredients from local farmers markets every morning.
“We still are trying to figure out how to run one business here,” Moreira says of Timber and their plans to expand. “But I imagine an oven by a river in the mountains, that’s it. No tables and no chairs, just people eating their pizza by the river.”
And as for how Moreira continues to make better pizza than her brother?
“I keep eating.”