Guest Bloggers
How the Internet Changed Pizza History
Albert Grande

Pizza has always been America’s favorite food. It’s been the subject of movies, books, and songs. Pizza is not only a food of sustenance, but for some has become an obsessive delight. And for many fans, pizza is a sheer and utter passion. Pizza debate brings on an endless thirst for argument that cannot be easily quenched with just a slice or two.

People discuss their favorite pizzerias with the same emotionally charged energy as they would discuss politics or their favorite sports team. Pizza has become so entrenched into the culture that it is easy to forget that it was once simply peasant food. Pizza was, for many years, enjoyed by the lower echelons of society who could afford little else.

For most of pizza’s long and romantic history it was a regional dish. The great pizza in New York stayed in New York. The inside secrets of the best New York pizzas remained in the boroughs and neighborhoods where it was created. There would be an occasional newspaper or magazine article. Television and radio reporters would sporadically discuss pizza on regional and local venues. However, unless you visited New York, these insider pizza secrets remained mysteries to the rest of the country.

The pizza in New Haven stayed in New Haven.  Frank Pepe began making pizza in 1925. Sally’s founded by Frank Pepe's, nephew, Salvatore Consiglio, came into being a decade later. Modern Apizza, also in New Haven developed their own brick oven masterpieces. Up the road in Derby, Connecticut, Roseland Apizza had created their own brand of

 
Finding Your Inner Pizza Maker
John Arena


OK, let’s play fill in the blank: A pizza is supposed to________.
Take your time with the answer because this is not a simple question. In fact you can think of it as the fundamental jumping off point for your own personal pizza quest, a sort of Zen koan that can move you towards pizza enlightenment. The late great pizza maker, Ed Ladou, described his pizza crust as an edible plate and his insight opened the floodgates of creativity for hundreds of pizza makers, some inspired and some eh, perhaps not so much. But let’s take it a step further. If pizza crust is an edible plate, the pizza itself is much more. I believe that we should think of our pizza, how we construct it, and how we eat it as an edible Rorschach test. Most of us have heard of this test, a psychological tool used to evaluate a subject's personality by analyzing perceptions about ink blots. Well, I think it is just as useful and a lot more fun to learn about people through the pizzas that they like and the pizzas that they make.

So let’s get back to the original question. What was your first unfiltered response? Did you answer “A pizza is supposed to be cooked in a wood burning oven”? How about Dom DeMarco of DiFara’s? He uses a Bakers Pride gas oven cranked up to nearly 600 degrees. How about: “A pizza is supposed to be topped with San Marzano tomatoes” right? Chris Bianco, one of our nations best pizza makers uses delicious California Tomatoes packed by Rob DiNapoli. Certainly, “A Pizza is supposed be made with Italian 00 flour.”  Except that when I asked the fantastic pizza makers at Volpetti in Rome they spoke lovingly of North American High Gluten Manitoba as their flour of choice.  One thing we can all agree on is: “A pizza is supposed to be extended by hand.”  Well somebody forgot to tell Al Santillo and his family who, for 3 generations, have followed their bread baking tradition and made incredible pizza using an old dough sheeter.

So, I think it is safe to say that for just about every “supposed to” there is an equally valid alternative response. Perhaps that means that our answers reveal more about us than they do about pizza itself. Let’s compare our pizza quest with another popular obsession, automobiles.  Some car enthusiasts will spend countless hours and huge sums of money to restore a vintage auto to showroom perfection. In a similar way, you may be drawn to pizza makers like Anthony Mangieri who insists that the only true expression of his art can be found in the four pizzas that he calls “true Neapolitan pizza”.  Think of him as a preservationist.  Other auto enthusiasts enjoy taking the same vintage autos and modernizing them. They are hot-rodders, linked to the past but customizing each creation with new innovations. A pizza maker like Roberto Caporuscio is doing just that in New York City, where his pies are clearly Neapolitan but include creations such as Noci e Zucchini, a delicious pizza made with smoked mozzarella, zucchini and cream of walnut. Surely this is not a pie that would have been made in Naples 50 years ago or even in Anthony Mangieri’s pizzeria today. So what about those automobile fanatics that don’t give a hoot about tradition and are driven by a desire to innovate? Well pizza fans have a few of those types too. These folks may be informed by what has come before, but they refuse to be enslaved by any standards but their own. In Italy the foremost name in this movement is Gabriele Bonci, Rome’s rock star pizza maker. If you want to experience "No-Holds Barred" pizza making visit Pizzarium or at least check out Bonci’s new book Il Gioco Della Pizza.

Well then, are you a preservationist, a hot-rodder or an innovator?  My hope is that at various points in your quest you will step deeply into each role, exploring what every facet of our art has to offer and, eventually, transcend labels, dogma, and rules to simply be at peace with the creation  and sharing of your pizza with the people that you love. To do that it is important to shed the notion of what your pizza is “supposed to be” and open your heart to everything that your pizza can be.

 
The Farmer Across the Road
Bruce Vetter

Note from Peter:  I've been corresponding recently with a fascinating guy name Bruce Vetter, a retired motorcycle builder who is now a passionate whole grain bread baker. I asked him if he'd be willing to share some of his unique personal story with our viewers and he sent me this photo essay. I'm hoping he'll keep sending us contributions like this -- he represents a rare breed of good old fashioned non-conformists who make life interesting for everyone around them. Enjoy!

 

When I was 14 I began to lead my life with a process of continual learning.  I've always had great passion for whatever I may be learning and being 68 now I have a lifetime of learning under my belt.  These last 2-3 years I've turned my attention to learning to bake whole wheat bread, which is far more difficult than I expected.  I have 6 grand children and I want them to understand that processed food is not normal.  I want them to know there is a better way to eat.

My goal is to bake 100% whole wheat bread that would be the bread of choice of my entire family.  Using store bought whole wheat flour was a convenient option but I wanted more control over the type of wheat used, the methods of farming and processing, and the length of storage before I get it.

Initially I started ordering winter hard white and red wheat berries from Idaho, shipped in on pallets. The wheat was packaged for the long term in 6 gallon buckets.  I also needed to be able to grind my own grain in large volume while limiting the amount of heat imparted to the flour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above 2 grinding mills operate either independently, or, the top one delivers it’s coarse product through the maroon conduit to the lower mill for final milling.  This limits and controls the amount of heat delivered to the final flour.  Each mill will produce 6-8 lbs of flour per hour.  (shown with belt guards removed)

The farmer across the road grows wheat and I asked him if I could purchase a full grain wagon. This amounted to 200 bushels (the product of 5 acres) weighing 14,000 lbs.  The cost was $0.10/pound or $1,400.  It was a lot of wheat and I was excited.  I wanted to get my grain from as close to the grower as possible.  The wheat from Idaho, by the way, cost $0.75/lb counting shipping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have  several local friends that think like me, so we shared this wheat by packaging it in my shop purged with Nitrogen and sealed in Mylar bags with Oxygen absorbers all within 5-6 gallon plastic buckets.  In total we packed 344 buckets of wheat .

To test if there is sufficient Nitrogen, we use a flame over the bag.  If the flame goes out we have enough Nitrogen and the bag is sealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counting everything but my labor, the cost of a bucket full of wheat is 8-9 dollars.  This is 1/3 of what I kept, the rest being distributed among other local home bakers.  Each bucket will take me 1-2 weeks to use up, from baking bread to rolling wheat for cereal and pancakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until I read Peter's book "Whole Grain Breads" every loaf I would bake was like a dense brick.  Using his pre-fermenting process of soakers and bigas, now it looks the way proper bread should look: And the flavor and taste is my families favorite.

 

 

 

My grand children are being taught what’s required to bake the loaf of bread they eat for dinner. They grind the grain too and when they do I call them my “Grain Children”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bake bread in a wood burning oven during the winters and a gas oven when the weather is warm.  I store about 13 cords of sawmill sawed deciduous wood, mostly oak measuring 6" X 8", stored in 40 large stackable wire metal baskets; each basket holds 800-1,000 lbs of wood with a volume of 1/3 cord.  Each basket is color coded with a tag delineating the harvest date so I can better judge the seasoning.  I have found that from when it is green until it is seasoned the wood will loose 17% of it's mass through moisture loss.   I like this method of storage because the wood continues to air dry, does not rot, and with a forklift I can "plug" a basket into a slot right next to my stove just like an audio cassette.  I have limited handling, the biggest chore involving

 
Uncrowned Champions
John Arena

Most of you have probably read Brad English’s superb coverage of this years Pizza Expo. The Expo is certainly the premier event for pizza pros and is, quite simply, the “must see” event for anyone who is serious about a career in pizza. With that being said, this year I overheard something that at once disturbed me and got me thinking about where pizza is headed. While standing at the entrance to Expo on the first morning I overheard two executives from one of the "Big Three" chains chatting about their product. One of them asked: “ How do you like the new Original Recipe Dough?”   The other replied without a trace of irony “Oh, I like it much better than the old Original Recipe Dough”

Well, this may sound funny at first but to old school pizza makers it’s really kind of sad and here’s why: You could tell that neither of these guys had any sense of pride in what they sell. For them pizza was just a product. Next year they may be selling shoes.

So here is the thing: before we were business men, or restaurateurs, or executives, or chefs, or celebrities we called ourselves Pie Men. I don’t mean that to be sexist, there just weren’t many women making pizzas in the old days. We were Pie Men and we earned the right to be a part of that group by standing in front of a hot oven for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, year after year. We told the world who we were by staying true to the craft that was gifted to us by those who came before. Everything that a Pie Man wanted to say was communicated through the pie. That’s why every classic pizzeria is named after the founding Pie Man. In a famous interview, Genarro Lombardi patted his coal fired oven and stated, “This is what made me a man.”  No one had a certificate, no one had won any medals, we didn’t insist on being called “Chef” or any other title. In fact no self respecting Pie Man would be caught dead wearing a chefs coat.  Joe Timpone the great Pie Man at Santarpios in Boston famously wore a brown paper bag for a hat while he tended the oven in an undershirt. Most Pie Men probably didn’t own a pair of shoes that weren’t caked with flour.

To have your peers refer to you as a “good Pie Man” was the ultimate compliment. Sure we were competitors, but there was a code of honor that can only be understood by people who are connected through a common struggle. To become a Pie Man was hard work, forged through a long and sometimes painful apprenticeship. Words like “artisan” “authentic” “certified” or the collection of high sounding initials that we now attach to products and methods would mean nothing to a Pie Man. For a Pie Man only two things were important, does it taste good and am I proud of it?  The two chain guys discussing their “Original Recipe” dough that was probably created by a focus group in a lab would most likely be thrown onto the street if they ventured into Totonno’s 50 years ago.

So are there any Pie Men left out there? Yes, and some great Pie Women too. You can find them if you search hard enough. I promise you, it’s worth the effort.  Al Santillo, in Elizabeth New Jersey, is a Pie Man; so is Lou Abatte in New Haven. These kind of people usually live near or above their pizzeria. They’re covered in flour. They have old burn stripes on their arms. They look very tired, but you will see something else too…Pride.

 

 

 
Delicious Slime -- A Breakthrough!
Jenn Burns

Note from Peter:  Jenn Burns, who last appeared here following her coffee farm adventure in Central America picking beans on a steep mountain slope, is back. Jenn just graduated Magna cum Laude from Davidson College, a few miles north of Charlotte, with a degree in Food and Environmental Studies. During her four years at Davidson I've been following her career through her writings as she transitioned through the many universal rites of passage into adulthood. The following is a recounting of one such recent adventure and Jenn gave me permission to share it with all of you. Her final legacy at the university is that she was able to help guide the administration in bringing locally raised products into the school's food service operation, thus supporting local farmers and food producers. Her next big adventure will be as an American delegate to the Slow Food Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto gathering in Italy this fall.  Hopefully, the following will not be the last we hear from her. Enjoy!

In an independent study project for my Food Literature and Writing course at Davidson College this past semester, oysters somehow became pervasive in many of the readings.  Of course, the ubiquitous nature of oysters in the artisan food world should have come as no surprise since there are over 200 varieties in North America alone, and the flavor of an oyster is almost entirely determined by its terroir.  I also learned that oysters are an easily accessible food that can set a serious foodie apart from a mere food aficionado, and I realized that I had some serious catching up to do.  My only previous experience with oysters began and ended one fateful night when I was about seven years old and not yet experienced enough to be discerning about such things. Neither of my parents would ever let a slimy grey sea creature pass through their own lips, but they agreed that it would be great entertainment to see how their adventurous, fearless kiddo would react. Not knowing any better, I slurped up the small pile of slimy goop, juice and all, and began to chew. I continued to chew and chew and chew. After I became visibly more distressed, my dad suggested I just go ahead and swallow the now even goopier substance that I had collected in my mouth. I tried, but my esophagus simply refused to let it go down so there, in the middle of one of Indianapolis’ finest dining establishments, I barfed the oyster. Needless to say, I tried for years to block this experience and everything to do with oysters from my memory.

But, nearly 15 years later, oysters are everywhere in my life. A few weeks ago I read perhaps the best food memoir ever written, The Gastronomical Me, in which M.F.K. Fisher relays a story of two lesbian lovers sensually feeding one another oysters. I later learned, through research, that oysters are often thought to be an aphrodisiac because they are high in zinc, which controls progesterone and, as a result, sexual drive. Furthermore, since sexual appetite often starts in the mind, and an oyster is reminiscent of the female sex organ, oysters may encourage a psychological effect on the libido. More recently I read A Short History of the American Stomach, which, surprisingly, concludes with the history of oysters!  I learned oysters were once a staple food for colonists until they ate the native American oysters to extinction; indeed oysters were the country’s first indigenous species eradicated by humans. Now, scientists are furiously working to create a triploid oyster that could be farmed, but would not be able to reproduce in case an oyster were to escape, which would decimate local ecosystems. But, another reason is to also ensure that all the oysters’ energies go towards growing big and delicious for human consumption, and that no energy goes into such frivolous tasks as reproduction. Another interesting factoid is that all oysters are born male; then, upon reaching sexual maturity, and every year for the rest of their lives, each oyster decides whether to remain male, become female, or to be a hermaphrodite (about 1 in 50), yet it is still unknown why oysters change sex. Simultaneously, I was reading a collection on the history of various foods called, What Caesar Did for My Salad, and learned that Oysters Rockefeller was invented in New Orleans at Antoine’s in 1840 and that the recipe has remained a closely guarded secret ever since. The sauce for this dish is bright green, resembling a dollar bill; thus, it was named after the richest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller. Meanwhile, I am about to graduate from college and have been told on numerous occasions to celebrate because “the world is my oyster.”

All of these readings transformed my opinions of oysters to the degree that I, the previously traumatized oyster-phobe, suggested to our class that we go out for oysters. Despite studying and teaching about food for almost two decades, my professor, who I nicknamed "The Goddess of Food," had never eaten raw oysters either, so, she fully supported the adventure and agreed to join us. I found a list of the ten best places for seafood in the Charlotte area and selected one located conveniently close to Davidson College. I found myself  thinking about the pending dining experience days before the actual event; I was worried that my uncontrollable gag reflex would spring into action. I realized that I didn’t know how to properly eat an oyster and I was concerned that the oyster would taste revolting. I imagined myself with shell to lips, yet unable to take the leap. It would be the food equivalent of having toes curled over the edge of the diving board but unable to flip into the pool.

Three of us -- the professor and two brave students -- made the trek to Vinnie’s Raw Bar. It was, quite possibly, the worse place imaginable to go with one’s professor. This was the Hooters of seafood shacks. Well-endowed waitresses were wearing tight shirts and tighter booty shorts that revealed many tattoos and piercings. A party of firemen blasted hard rock. Posters, signs, and graffiti sure to offend every profession, race, and gender covered the walls. Having read Margaret Vissers’ treatise on table manners, The Rituals of Dinner, that week for the class, I could only imagine what she and Emily Post would have to say about this dive.

We tentatively ordered a half dozen raws. Thanks to the guidance of our waitress, who herself refuses to eat oysters, we put the mollusk on a cracker and added a dollop of cocktail sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Inspired by the "Goddess of Food’s" confident lead, I popped my little tartine too. It tasted like lemon and the dominating cocktail sauce and it felt like a cracker and, you know, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was good. Vinnie’s, I soon learned, sources their oysters from Apalachicola Bay, on the panhandle of Florida.  It is the only place in the United States where oysters are still wild and are harvested using tongs from small boats.  This is merely one example of how that small community strives to preserve traditional livelihoods.  Apalachicola Bay oysters are thought to be some of the best in the world, if not the best, thanks to their natural mellowness (as opposed to being overly salty) and the plump, meatiness of the oysters.  For my second oyster, which I eagerly scooped up directly from the shell, I tried a bit of horseradish instead of cocktail sauce. It too was delicious!  Although other oyster varieties, such as Naked Cowboy, Hama Hama, and sweet petite have more tempting titles, I now recommend to to any oyster virgin (which I no longer am!) to start with the best - Apalachicola Bay oysters.

Our shared raw oyster experience lasted only a few minutes and seemed almost anticlimactic at the time, although it has forever changed my self-styled status to that of a daring foodie. We soon moved on to Vinnie's fried oyster baskets and a lively evening of literary discussion as if we had not just enjoyed a small scoop of delicious slime.



 
The Pizza Guy
Brad English

The Pizza Guy, or is he the "Other Pizza Guy? Let me explain.

I found myself driving through the desert thinking a lot about pizza.  Having thoughts of pizza dance around my head wasn't out of the ordinary, but you don't often connect pizza with the desert.  I was cruising east at about 5 miles per hour over the speed limit to avoid being taken down by one of the open highways finest on my way from LA toward the big Pizza Expo that is held in Las Vegas once a year.  I was going to finally meet John Arena, who often writes on our site.  What had me so excited was that he had expressed to Peter that he wanted to make some pizza with me.  So, as I drove my mind wandered through the possibilities of this new experience. 

John is more than a pizza chain owner.  He is a pizza encyclopedia who walks the walk and talks the talk.  He is a pizza guy from Brooklyn who struck out to find his slice of the American Dream when the opportunity to buy a small pizzeria in Las Vegas came up.  I love his story!  He and his cousin sold everything they had to come up with the down payment for the business and, through a moving service, shuttled a car out to Los Angeles for someone.  On their way, they dropped off their possessions in Vegas. After delivering the car to LA the next day, they returned to Vegas on a Greyhound bus.  A few weeks later, when they opened their pizzeria, the two of them had less than $100 between them. 

Here's my favorite part: As their business grew he and his cousin started noticing folks saying "Hey, there's The Pizza Guy, and the Other Pizza Guy."  I can't remember if John is THE Pizza Guy, or the OTHER Pizza Guy, but he is definitely our Pizza Guy!

Today he is opening his sixth Metro Pizza in Las Vegas.  Talk about a Pizza Quest!  You can see why I was excited to meet John, eat his pizza, and be shown the ropes of his hometown event - The Pizza Expo.

True to form, John was my ambassador and tour guide for the Expo.  We walked the floor, meeting people I knew from a year of operating this site but had never met in person, and ran into a number of friendly faces.  I was there to spread the word and look for potential sponsorship interest in our site as well as just connecting with the industry of pizza. The convention hall was filled with ingredient companies (Flour, Cheese, Tomato, Meats, Toppings), oven manufacturers, pizza box makers,  and all the little things that you need to operate a pizzeria, or restaurant.  It was also filled with hot ovens pushing out tons of delicious pizzas, calzones, panini and all sorts of other "samples".

After my first day, where I met a host of characters, including Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours in NYC, John invited us out to one of his Metro Pizzerias for dinner.  I was full from testing and tasting pizza all day, but I was really excited to get out to one of John's pizzerias and see what he does.  It looked like we wouldn't have time to make pizzas together on this  trip, but I was happy to go and just take in the atmosphere. 

John started cranking and the food just kept coming.  First came the fried garlic knots.  Then came these delicious meatball sliders made on the same garlic knots, but not fried.  Stop the presses!  I loved these!!  I would be in trouble if this were my local pizzeria.  Next came a giant, massive, Sicilian Pizza.  It was done perfectly.  The crust was thick and light.  It was moist and crispy and juicy.  I had stepped behind the counter to talk to John and snap some photos.  I didn't think about it then, but he was in performance mode.  He was delivering his pizzas to some pretty insane pizza lovers at the table where about ten of us sat awaiting the next course.  He checked the crust on this Sicilian over and over, pulling it out, looking at the bottom and sliding it back in.  He wanted to get the timing just right, and he did.

Earlier in the day, as we walked the floor of the Expo, we ran across a few booths doing fried pizza crusts, and fried paninis.  John talked to me about how this was the new craze.  I had just had my first fried dough in NYC at the new Don Antonio by Starita and thought it was definitely interesting.  John explained that back "in the day," Italian immigrants would set up on the street and make deep fried calzones.  They had a sidewalk business that consisted of a pot of oil and a burner and would serve up amazing calzones right off the street.  So, this led to John's next treat, which I don't think was on the menu.  He made us up some traditional deep fried street calzones.  Watching this Pizza Guy make his food is like watching a master artist mixing his paints to create the exact colors he sees in his mind.  John was set up on a prep table in the middle of the restaurant, but I could see he was not only here in this space, but also somewhere back in time, connecting to his ancestors.  He comes from a long line of family members that worked in and around the pizza business.  You can see that his heart is connected to his past, their shared experience, and also the present, where he is truly fulfilled sharing his soul through his pizzeria.


The deep fried calzones were amazing.


Out came another pizza.  It's called the Seafood Fra Diavalo.  Did I start the presses again?  If so, stop them again.  You will be seeing this baby being recreated by yours truly on these pages soon enough.  It was really good and it was also interesting.  Then, out came a tomato pie with roasted red and green peppers, tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano.

Let's just restart the presses tomorrow. 

My favorite moments of the night were still about to happen.  John finally finished making and delivering platters of pizzas and appetizers and came out and sat down.  We were all talking and laughing and he looks at me and says, "What's this?!" while pointing to my plate, which was now full of left over pieces of everything I had been eating.  I looked down over my bloated belly and smiled, thinking how good everything was and how full I was.  He then said, "Great!  Brad English doesn't like my pizza!"  I laughed and realized he was kidding, but then I started to explain that I was stuffing every bite I could into my mouth but, after a day of eating pizza and now a night of it, I had finally reached my limit.  I assured him that Brad English did indeed love his pizza.

The punchline of this piece of the story is that when I was back in my hotel room and called my wife, I relayed this part of the story.  She started laughing hysterically.  She said, "You're THE Brad English?  You're named now?!! Hahahaha". 

Metro Pizza bills itself as a family-style pizzeria.  They are that and more.  There's a huge wall-sized map of the United States with famous pizzerias marked on the map.  John is such a pizza fanatic that he will give you a free dinner if you take a photo of yourself in front of a pizzeria in another city and give him the photo to post on the wall.  Talk about a pizza guy on his own pizza quest.  What a great way to build a family.

Thanks John for the great pizza and the personal pizza tour throughout my days at the Pizza Expo. 

Brad English - Yet Another Pizza Guy.

 

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American Pie Artisan Breads Every Day Bread Baker's Apprentice Brother Juniper's Bread Book Crust and Crumb Whole Grain Breads

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