Peter's Blog
Peter's Blog, 1/31/2012 -- Emeril's e2
Peter Reinhart

I had lots of things to blog about this week but something happened a few days ago in Charlotte that knocked all the other news into next week. Emeril Lagasse opened a new restaurant right here in Charlotte, called e2. This city, which is hosting the Democratic National Convention in September and has, for the past fifteen years been carrying out a dynamic strategic plan to turn Charlotte into America's next great city, has been yearning for a celebrity or major superstar chef to open a restaurant here. We thought it might happen a few years ago, and a few big names did scout us out and some even made brief, but really uninvolved forays into the local scene. We already have a number of terrific home town chefs doing some excellent work but the public rarely appreciates what they have till they're gone (or so says Jonie Mitchell). But now, at last, validation and opportunity converged as e2 opened last week and, due to the generosity of Emeril and his team, especially Jeff Hinson, I got invited to dinner and a chance to try many of the menu items (the name, by the way, refers to a number of personal associations for Emeril, including the twenty-plus years since he opened his first restaurant, with this new one representing a next generation and manifestation of that original "essence and energy").  I'll address some of the dishes a little later but, first, a few more comments on the significance of this opening and how it relates to Pizza Quest.

As our regular followers know, Pizza Quest isn't just about pizza -- pizza is our guiding metaphor in a journey that celebrates artisans and artisanship of all types. We are really searching in this quest for excellence and, bottom line, we are searching for people who have a fire in their bellies to create that excellence no matter how hard it may be to do so. Pizza is a living symbol and signifier in that regard because it means so many things to so many people and, at the symbolic level, means a lot more than just tomatoes, cheese, and crust. The ancient Greeks had a word for what their philosophers thought was the purpose of life: eudaimonia. It is untranslatable into English in its totality but the closest anyone has come to a translation is "to flourish, or to thrive."  I thought a lot about this word and concept and the deeper purpose of Pizza Quest as I enjoyed my dinner at e2.

 

 

 

 

Cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Charleston, Dallas, and many others already have so-called superstar chefs in abundance and folks from there may think this excitement is a bit naive, but I remember a time when many of those cited above didn't have great restaurant reputations. But, eventually they drew a number of local and national chefs who helped them establish a cultural food identity and now they all have flourishing, thriving food scenes (see how I worked those eudaimonic words into this?). Charlotte, to date, does not have such a reputation but it aspires to. I remember when Yountville had one restaurant that was pretty good called The French Laundry, but it wasn't owned by Thomas Keller and it was basically a one restaurant town. Then Chef Keller took over and changed everything and now, as anyone who has gone to Yountville knows, this two block town now has more great restaurants per square foot than any place in America. It's only been a few years, less than twenty, so things can happen that fast. But it has to start with someone. Chris Bianco did the same for pizza in Phoenix and we've seen other places where one breakthrough restaurant spawned a thriving, growing food savvy community. I grew up in Philadelphia and, despite our hoagies and cheese steaks, the food scene was pretty dull until Steven Starr and other bright restaurateurs, and some talented chefs like (Iron Chefs) Morimoto and Jose Garces, and even chefs who beat the Iron Chefs, like Marc Vetri, and a number of others, changed the game completely and turned Philly into a great food town. It can happen. And I think this is what Charlotte aspires to. Will it happen here? I think so. Will it take twenty years? Maybe, but maybe even faster. A lot depends on a spark and the best spark we've had is that Emeril has chosen to make a statement here and, if it strikes fire, I expect to see not only other well known chefs open here but also for great local chefs to emerge as they have in Charleston (which is probably the hottest restaurant city in America at the moment because of the emergence of three or four amazing, local chefs like Sean Brock and others). They don't need celebrity chefs in Charleston because their own chefs have redefined their cultural culinary identity. Larger cities, like New York (and Paris and London are even more perfect examples), are more like synthesis locales, giant salad bowls, that require both local and outside talent to converge until critical mass is attained. Charlotte will probably be more like those cities and it will take, in my estimation, about six to ten years for critical mass to occur (things happen faster in these digital times). Is e2 the greatest restaurant since Per Se? No, it doesn't aspire to be -- it's a fun restaurant that merges creative menu items (both familiar and inventive), reasonable prices, and the imprimatur of one of our most beloved culinary icons. This restaurant means more to Charlotte than it may even mean to Emeril, or it may be a harmonic convergence that leads to some sort of culinary big bang. Time will tell, but I'm betting on it and will continue to report on things here, not just because I live here, but because now Charlotte has joined the metaphorical lexicon, like pizza, of the quest that never seems to end.

In the photos you'll see some of my favorite moments from my night at e2: a wood oven roasted marrow bone with mushroom toast points served with tender slices of seared yellowfin (a little marrow spread on the toast, topped with the butter-tender fish created an explosively satisfying bite); a shrimp pizza with artichoke, fontina val d'aosta, white cheddar, and herb pesto (at first look I didn't think it would compete with some of the pizzas we've featured here from Mozza, Tony's, or Pizzeria Delfina but I was delighted by how much snap the dough had -- followed by a soft,creamy crumb, and a nicely charred underskirt ( took a photo of it but it didn't turn out -- sorry). And I have to say, the cheese combination coupled with the shrimp and artichoke slices was totally delightful; three slices of hamachi tuna crudo in tangerine oil with jalapeño slices and micro cilantro in a ponzu sauce -- these were just some of the starters and this high standard was maintained throughout the night. I'm not a restaurant critic and so will not pretend that this is a critical review, but just to give you an example of some of the other dishes we sampled: citrus tea lacquered "five-day" duck served with Anson Mills farro (Anson Mills is one of the places I hope to film for Pizza Quest one of these days -- a rock star brand in the artisan grain world); a tile fish special of the night (caught off the Outer Banks of North Carolina); Dry Aged Creekstone Farms Natural Angus Strip Steak, and Emeril's unique take on shrimp and grits. And, of course, there's Emeril himself (yes, that's me with him, just after the dinner rush ended), having directed and expedited his team through the entire service. The whole menu, which changes frequently, can be found at: http://e2emerils.com/ 

Like I said, this isn't a restaurant review website -- we just like to celebrate people and places that we like and, as a faculty member at Johnson & Wales I'm, of course, extremely proud of our most well known graduate, but I'm even more thankful that he's now in Charlotte for the initiation of what promises to be a new culinary era here. I'll keep you posted.

 
Peter's Blog, Jan. 24th, 2012
Peter Reinhart

In the past week I received three gifts: the first was a new folding proof box for home bakers made by Brod & Taylor. I tried it out and love it for two reasons: during my baking classes for home cooks I get asked all the time how to proof bread without a professional proof box. I suggest things like using the dishwasher as a steam box, the microwave with a glass of boiling water, an upside down styrofoam box with a lightbulb hanging through the roof, and other improvisations. But this new device is a compact (yes it folds up for easy storage) mini-version of a real proof box (and you can even make yogurt and sour cream in it), with a hot plate, water pan, and, temperature controls. The second thing is that it's just a beautiful design, something you want to let people see. I just read the Steve Jobs biography and have a new appreciation of his genius for creating (with the help of his over-worked and over-chastised, under-recognized team of collaborators) beautiful tools. This is a similarly beautiful tool and, for serious home bread bakers, solves the proofing problem.  We all have a tendency to say, "Hey wouldn't it be nice if someone would make ...." and then we go on with life.  Well, these guys went out and made it and it sells for about $150. Check it out at:  http://brodandtaylor.com/

This must be "thank the people week." Here's the second of the three gifts I mentioned above,  a great e-mail from Raphael Vaccaro along with some photos he sent. I'm posting this not because we will post every restaurant person that writes to us (though I am willing to post some as Guest Columns if you send me a good story at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), but because I love the fire and passion and sense of connectedness with which he tells his story (and I like the way his pizza looks too!). We say here that we want to celebrate artisans and artisanship wherever we find them so here's an example:

Good Afternoon Peter:

My name is Raphael Vaccaro.  I am second generation restaurateur in Akron Ohio.  I have been working in the industry all of my life.  About 2 years agoI had an epiphany that would change the way I cook and the whole concept of bread making.  You do not know it, but your books and explanation had a lot to do with it.  This together, with the passing of my father, the patriarch of the family business; I have felt great comfort in and peace knowing that a 58 year old family pizza business has been elevated to the next level.

Just a quick intro:

· My father started in 1957 -- a classic deck oven pizza business.  It's grown into 7 locations.

· He was the first in the area to install a Middleby Marshall conveyor convection oven.  All stores utilized them.  This was in the early 70’s.

· Transferring the pizza cooking process from deck oven to conveyor gave us the ability to do high consistent volume, but we also sacrificed a lot of texture.

· In the early 90’s my father went from several locations to one location, changing his venue from classic old school Italian. I felt the need to go upscale because we relocated into a very upscale high end neighborhood.

About 2 years ago my brother built a wood-fired pizza oven in his back yard.  He kept telling me how good the flavor of my parents old style pizza is in that oven.  It was my dream to go with the wood fired ovens.  The caveat to the oven is that most restaurateurs do not know how to use them.  They have no concept of intense temperature, how to work with dough, and the cold slow fermentation of yeast.   I see countless pictures on the web of wood fired pizza’s, artisan Napolitano style, true to Italian heritage, blah blah blah.  The pictures I'm sending, though, look OK in high resolution, but when you actually follow the procedure of retarding dough, the quality and flavorand overall result is beyond ordinary or what any picture can show.

My brother introduced me to the Bread Bakers Apprentice and Pain à l’Ancienne…I have since changed the whole pizza making procedures that my father started to the next generation of Vaccaro’s Pizza.
About a year ago I found an old Blodgett deck oven and refurbished it.  I opened up the gas valve to change the btu’s from 37k to about 65k btu.  I lined it with fire brick.  I added a 650 degree thermostat.

The story goes on and on and on.  Enclosed you will find the final product with Pain à l’Ancienne and 00 Caputo flour.  The crust is INCREDIBLE.   I also switched from using provolone or mozzarella like any other American style pizza and switched to 100% DOP Pecorino Romano.

I look forward to more correspondence as this pizza tradition develops into the next tradition of our family business.  My next version of dough will be whole wheat and also using spent grain from a local micro brewery.

Raphael

PS…I have also enclosed some pictures of a new prototype oven I am building to be mobile for my catering.  It is a combination of the Pompeii and Tuscan ovens.  This is lined with thermal blanket with fire brick.   I should reach 800 degrees with no problems and be able to roast meats for my dinner service.
Ciao

Raphael Vaccaro
Vaccaro's Trattoria



Finally, gift number three, here's a note from a home baker in the UK, Ilian, who also happens to be a professional food photographer, as you will see from these amazing shots. If you like them, check out his website for more. Enjoy!   www.ilian.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Peter,

Just want to say I have your Whole Grain Breads book and I made Four Seed Crackers. Thanks for the recipe, the crackers are amazing. Attach are some of my images.

Best Regards

ilian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay folks -- you did all the work this week and thanks to Ilian, Raphael, and Michael Taylor of Broad and Taylor.  And to everyone else,  do feel free to share your stories with us -- we'll publish the ones that carry the same spirit as these.




 
Peter's Blog, Jan. 17, 2012
Peter Reinhart

Just received a call from a friend of mine from Syracuse who said she received her latest copy of Better Homes & Gardens and saw the pizza article about me. I think it hit the news stands today. I don't know when it will go digital but I just taped a narration voice-over for a short video on how to shape a pizza dough, which should show up on their web site at some point soon. I'll let you know when it goes live and we'll post a link to it here when it does. It's short and sweet (about a minute and a half long), but it was fun to sit in front of an iMovie console and tape a narrative over the video stream. It was the first time I've ever done that and I can see how easily it could become a habit. If any of you discover that the video is live before I do please let me know by writing to me here in the Comments section.

Also, I wanted to remind those of you who have been writing to ask about where and when I'll be teaching around the country in the near future, that I'm just starting to schedule a new tour for late summer and fall, 2012. The new book I've been working on is almost finished and when it is I'll have more opportunities to get back on the road, so as soon as I have the new dates I'll post them here. For those who live in Little Rock, however, I will be doing a demo next week at the Professional Association of Innkeepers International Conference at The Peabody Hotel. Of course, the demo is limited only to attendees at the conference, but if you want to meet up for a drink or a cup of coffee, drop me a line at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I'll be arriving late Tuesday night and my demo is Wed. afternoon but I'll be free afterwards so who knows what kind of questing we can get into. Is there any killer pizza in Little Rock? Time to find out!!

One final note: our friend Paisley McCaffery's mom, Sheila, has a really fun blog in which she shares the menus and anecdotes from her A-list dinner parties over the past thirty or so years (maybe even longer -- she seems to have known just about everyone worth knowing). In her most recent post she fired up a few pizzas, recounted some memories, and gave Pizza Quest a shout out. So, check out her blog at: http://entertainingaddict.blogspot.com/ and let her know we sent you. All I can say is that I want to get invited to one of Sheila's parties. She doesn't go on quests, the quests come to her -- you go girl!!

More coming this week, so keep checking back. And may your pizzas all be perfect!!

Peter

 
Peter's Blog, January 10th, 2012
Peter Reinhart

I'm still having trouble believing it's already 2012. I still recall back in 1970 how long the run-up seemed to take to the Bi-Centennial in 1976 and I wondered what it was going to be like for me to be, amazingly 26 years old -- an adult!-- when it happened. Then, all of a sudden, it did happen, and then so many other things happened and the years just kept coming and adventures kept unfolding and then, hey, how did it suddenly get to be 2012?!! I'm in denial, what can I say, but I'll get over it by simply going on more quests and pretending that I'm still waiting to turn 26 and will maybe live until the Tri-Centennial.

I keep getting great e-mails from people all over the place, and not just from the USA, telling me about these fabulous pizzerias where they live and how we should film a Pizza Quest webisode there. I can tell you, I'd like nothing better but I still have to do my day job (which I love, teaching at Johnson & Wales Univ.), finish my book on gluten-free baking (yes, it will have some great pizza and focaccia recipes in it), and keep working on the material we already have in the can. But I know there are dozens, maybe more, of Pizza Quest worthy places to check out and capture on video. All I can say is, we're trying; Lord knows, we're trying (see what Tim Tebow has got me saying now...). Speaking of Tebow, what's happening in Denver reminds me of the Bible story about the people who asked Jesus to perform some miracles so that they might believe and he said, (and I paraphrase), "He already sent you Moses and the Prophets and that didn't seem to be enough so what makes you think you'll believe now?"  It's just that miracles don't seem like miracles when they're happening, but they do later, when we tell our kids and grand kids about what once upon a time happened. Now, I'm not saying he's going to win the Super Bowl or anything; to do that he'd have to beat some of the other players who have also been referred to as the "son of God" by their fans, like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees.  But what  I can say is this: watch and enjoy -- these are the days of miracles and wonders....

...But I digress. Getting back to Pizza Quests, let me share this link with you, especially for those who want us to do a Pizza Quest to their favorite place .: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/italys-best-pizza-town

This article was written by Anya von Bremzen, a long time favorite food writer of mine, and it recounts her own pizza quests in Naples and Rome, where she met some of the "next generation" future pizza legends as well as visiting some of the classic golden oldies that still make a mean pie. This lady has some serious questing chops, so I want to go on one of hers the way some of you want to go on one with us. The good news, I guess, is that there are a lot of us who really want to get out there and do it -- and so we shall.

 

 
Peter's Blog, January 6th, 2012, Good News!
Peter Reinhart

Didn't want you to wonder where we were but we're still on holiday break. Today is Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, and traditionally the day celebrated as the visitation and gifts of the Magi, the three wise men. We've kept our tree up and our Christmas lights on and now, in our neighborhood at least, we're apparently the only ones left still celebrating Christmas. When our tree goes out to the curb on Monday it will probably be the only one not already picked up and turned into mulch. Too bad since twelve days is way better than one or two -- it's always nice to "keep the lights shining."  Regardless, we've been enjoying our break but look forward to resuming regular postings soon.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to share some good news with you. Sometime about mid-January the new issue of Better Homes and Gardens will hit the news stands and there's a terrific article on pizza in it featuring, yes, me. Please spread the word -- some excellent recipes and tips as well as great photos. I'm hoping it leads more folks back to us here at PQ, as the magazine has something like 3 million readers worldwide. It will technically be their February issue but it actually comes out around the 16th of January. Let us know what you think of it when you see it -- you can comment right here in this section.

Okay, I'm off to savor the final few minutes of Epiphany. Hope you all had a peaceful, regenerative holiday break filled with, as our friend Albert Grande, at Pizza Therapy.com says, "Pizza on Earth...."

Peter

 

 
Peter's Blog: Year End Wrap Up
Peter Reinhart

It's the final day of 2011 and also the end of our first year of Pizza Quest. So, first, on behalf of the entire team (who I will name at the end), thank you for your loyal following of our journey, and for sharing your own.  As riders on our metaphorical "bus," you and we went to some great places together this year, including Pizzeria Mozza and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, The Cass House Inn in Cayucos, CA, The Taco Temple in Morro Bay, Pizzeria Delfina, Tartine Bakery, and Bi-Rite Market and Creamery in San Francisco's "Gastro District," Stanislaus Tomatoes near Modesto, Pizzeria Basta in Boulder, CO, and also The Fire Within Mobile Wood-Fired Oven Summit, also in Boulder. During the past few months we also shared a number of illuminating visits with Tony Gemignani, of Tony's Pizza Napoletana.  All of these videos are either still on this home page or waiting to be viewed in the archives of either our Webisode section or the Instructional section. For newcomers to the site, please feel free to go through all the sections and catch up to those who have been with us from the start. You'll also find a number of excellent Guest Columns and lots of photo recipe sessions by Brad English, Teresa Greenway, and others, as well as foundational recipes for doughs, sauces, herb oil, and focaccia.  It's amazing how much info has accumulated in just one short year, so thank you again to all of you, including our contributors, for creating this amazing community dedicated to the celebration of artisanship, both in pizza and in all aspects of life.

You will find, posted earlier today, a year end recipe pictorial from Brad in which he completes his four-part cycle of making his own versions of what we called the Signature Challenge Pizza, created as a collaboration between Kelly Whitaker (Pizzeria Basta) and us as a gauntlet throw-down to Patrick Rue of the world famous The Bruery. His team of brewers then came up with their own one of a kind signature beer that they dubbed Birra Basta, which debuted at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver back in September. Again, for newbies, go back to the Peter's Blog posts from that time period and read all about it. Of course, we have hours of video footage that we plan to share in the coming year, from the original issuance of the challenge in Boulder, then on and to the first unveiling of the pizza at The Bruery itself in Placentia, CA, and then, finally, to the "Big Reveal" in Denver at the beer festival. All of that is still to come, along with new footage from other fabulous pizzerias, but in the meantime, Brad made four home-style variations of the Challenge pizza and the final version just posted today. It helped, as you will read, that he was able to procure the last keg of the Birra Basta from The Bruery, which he's been nursing along for the past couple of months (I'm sure the keg is under lock and key). We were all so excited about the results of this pairing and, especially for Brad, and also for the rest of us vicariously, we've been able to enjoy the fruits of his personal quest to bring it all home. This is exactly what we hope for you, as well, that you not only enjoy the videos and content on the site but also make some killer pizzas at home and also get out there on your own quests for the perfect pizza and your own memorable moments.  We'll be back soon, throughout 2012, with more postings and we love having you "on the bus" with us.

Till then, here are some personal thanks to all those who make Pizza Quest possible: Brad English and Jeff Michael, the co-creators of Pizza Quest who asked me to join them on this most amazing of adventures -- and thank you also to both of their wives, Shanna and Julie, and their families, for letting the three of us play in the sandbox together; James Bairey and everyone at Forno Bravo, our partners in this website venture, who provided all the technical web expertise and introduced us to their own, growing, wood-fired oven community;thanks to Geoff Rantala, our trusty web designer;  Francis Wall and the folks at Bel Gioioso Cheese, our first charter sponsor who made it possible for us get these first webisodes filmed and edited; our amazing Director of Photography, David Wilson who totally gets what this quest is all about; all our other video and audio crew members including Annette Aryanpour, our talented film editor who does such a great job keeping the footage so lively and entertaining; Maria De Barros who shared her wonderful music with us;  the folks at Crash & Sue's Post Production facility, who edited our first webisode, Pizza and Obsession, which we use as the intro for all newcomers; Joseph Pergolizzi, owner of The Fire Within, and builder of amazing mobile pizza ovens, who is now also one of our sponsors and our link to a whole world of fabulous artisans, Keith and Nicky Giusto, of Central Milling, who not only created the special flour blend for the Signature Challenge dough but are now an official sponsor of Pizza Quest.

Also, thank you to the Guest Columnists who contributed their thoughtful essays and recipes: Teresa Greenway, our resident sourdough maven; John Arena (of Metro Pizza); Michael Hanson, "the Sacred Baker;" Tom Carrig, Tony Gemignani, who contributed one of our first guest columns ("Respect the Craft"); Caleb Schiff; Brad Otton; Jenn Burns; Alan Henkin of Pizzeria Basta; Wes Baily; and John Della Vecchia; and Brad's sister Kristin English.  You'll find them all in Guest Column archives.

Another round of thanks to all the folks we featured in the webisodes and for the generous amount of time they all gave us so that we could dig deep in order to find out about the fire that burns in each of their bellies.

And, of course, my own thank you to my wife, Susan, who continues to support me on my Quixotian quests.  All Questers need great partners and we here at Pizza Quest, well, we're all lucky to have ours.

Happy New Year everyone--more to come in 2012….

 

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Vision Statement

Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

Peter's Books

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

… and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com

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