Peter's Blog
Peter's Blog, March 22nd, 2012
Peter Reinhart

It's hard to believe, but the time has come for another Asheville Artisan Bread Festival, this Saturday, March 24th.  Seems like just yesterday we were there, that I posted some photos here on Pizza Quest, and that we had a chance to celebrate with artisan bread bakers, cheese makers, and other Asheville area craftspeople in the lovely foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  This is our 8th annual event and I've been to every one, usually presenting a demo on whatever my latest obsession is.  This year, I'll be presenting the first sneak preview of recipes from the new book that Denene Wallace and I just finished called The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, published by Ten Speed Press.  The book goes to press in a few days and won't be available until mid-August, but the folks who come to Asheville will get to taste two of the recipes from the book and learn how to make these unique products.  I'll write a lot more about the premise and methodology of the book in future postings but, suffice it to say for now that the recipes are not only gluten-free but also sugar-free and, essentially, carb-free, with zero glycemic load.

 
Pizzeria Delfina, revisit with Anthony Strong
Peter Reinhart

I mentioned last week that Anthony Strong was recently named San Francisco's 2012 Rising Star Chef for his work at Locanda, Craig Stoll's newest restaurant, located just around the corner from Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina in the part of town they affectionately call, The Gastro. So, in tribute to Anthony's well deserved success and budding fame, and for those who missed this the first time around, we're replaying our visit with him when he was head pizzaiolo at Pizzeria Delfina. In this segment, I sit down with Anthony and Craig as they explain how Pizzeria Delfina evolved out of the original Restaurant Delfina ("If Delfina is John Coltrane, then Pizzeria Delfina is Iggy Pop," Craig says -- I love that analogy!).  You will also hear one of our all time favorite Pizza Quest sound bites, also featured in our introductory webisode at the top of the home page, in answer to the question of why they work so hard and do what they do. As Anthony says, "It's a compounding interest of obsession."

Obsession -- in this context I believe it represents the notion of passion, but perhaps passion on steroids -- is a driving premise of Pizza Quest.  We saw it in Anthony's eyes as we chatted with him and Craig over some potent cups of cappuccino (trust me, it was there both before and after the cappuchino). Craig has it too -- this obsessive streak-- but as an older, mature, James Beard Award winning chef who has already been to the mountaintop, he does a great job of what I call "keeping a lid on his happy." In his own way, though, he too embodies obsessive drive. But as you focus on Anthony in this segment, perhaps many of you can relate to that youthful excitement of discovery, the realization that life is fathomless, opening before us like a springtime tulip; a relentless, enervating, delicious adventure. Anthony and Craig represent bookends, in this regard; the arc between a chef on the rise, at the genesis of what promises to be a great career, and an already celebrated chef who has achieved far more than 99% of the chefs in the world, at the zenith of his success, yet still looking for new mountains to climb and talented young chefs to mentor.

These are the people we look for, the artists we celebrate, whose contagious excitement about their own discovery process leavens the rest of us, whether through the food they feed us or simply the energy that they generate as a result of their obsessive drive on our behalf and that we just want to absorb.

Congratulations again to Anthony -- and also to Craig (and his equally talented wife Annie, the co-creator of the Delfina/Locanda empire)! And, to our viewers, especially the ones who missed this the first time around, enjoy the vicarious thrill of being in their presence and sharing their vision. Fire up your espresso makers and dive in.

 
Peter's Blog, March 12, 2012
Peter Reinhart

March Madness begins this week in college basketball -- my favorite sporting event of the year, full of last second drama and indelible moments of sports greatness. But it is also a big week for pizza too. Tomorrow, the annual Pizza Expo begins in Las Vegas -- the biggest, baddest pizza show in the world and we're sending the intrepid Brad English to cover it for Pizza Quest. I expect he'll have some terrific stories, adventures, drama, and photos to share with us when he returns. For those of you who are also going to be there, look for him -- he's the big, bald dude with the camera, probably with a slice in the other hand. Introduce yourself to him and let him know your a Pizza Quest fan -- it will make his day!

Hey, I just got an e-mail from the Delfina's Restaurant group and guess what? Our friend and super-obsessive pizzaiolo Anthony Strong, featured in our Pizzeria Delfina series of webisodes, has just been announced by the San Francisco Chronicle as their 2012 Rising Star Chef for his work at the newest addition to the Delfina restaurant constellation, Locanda. We saw his talents at the pizzeria, but now he's on an even bigger, broader stage so if you're in SF, check him out at Locanda and tell him you heard about it here.

Also, and I assume the timing isn't a pure coincidence, Parade Magazine made pizza the cover story for yesterday's edition, which I'm sure many of you saw if you get the Sunday paper.  The article is by the wonderful Jane and Michael Stern, of Road Food fame, so they have true street cred. I'd love to hear your reactions to their honor roll list, which included a few places I've been to (Pizzeria Bianco, Al Forno, Serious Pie) and a lot of places I've never been to (Coletta's in Memphis, Buddy's in Detroit, Dean-O's in Lafayette, LA, DiCarlo's in Wheeling, W.V., Menches Bros in Green, OH, Hot Truck in Ithaca, and Frank's in Silvis, IL). Suddenly, I feel like a Pizza Quest virgin again -- I need to get out more!  For those who know these places, or the others in the Stern's list, or who want to nominate a place not on the list, please write to us here in the Comments section.  It's time to find out where greatness is happening and deserves to be recognized. If you do make a nomination, state your case -- we need to know why it's on the list, not just because you like it but by what criteria you make your claim.  Maybe we can assemble the most worthy nominations into a Pizza Quest Hall of Fame of our own.

So, again, just to be clear, tell us who but also tell us why -- it doesn't have to be long but it does need to be convincing. This is our version of March Madness -- so let the madness begin!!

 
Pizzeria Mozza, Redux
Peter Reinhart

This week, because we've had so many new visitors to Pizza Quest, we've decided to re-post one of our earliest video webisodes, from Pizzeria Mozza, in Hollywood.  I chose this particular segment because Matt Molina, who is the Executive Chef at Pizzeria Mozza, fills us in about what it's like to be working under the tutelage of owners Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali and we also get some great shots of the beautiful pizzas that come out of those glowing wood fired ovens. For those who never got to watch the whole Mozza series, this segment should get you fired up to go to our Webisodes section and look over the whole list (the actual list is located at the bottom of each of the two pages in this section, and all the Mozza links are at the bottom of the second page).

Matt, who has been working for and with Nancy since he was 20 years old (he's over 31 now), first at her James Beard Award winning restaurant Campanile, and now at Pizzeria Mozza, oversees a full team of pizzaioli who have to turn out not only hundreds of world class pizzas daily (their Hollywood customers won't settle for less than the best), but also an array of inventive side dishes and killer desserts. One of the recurrent themes we've explored throughout the past year here on Pizza Quest is the necessity of the presence of a key person, an artisan, to be at the center of the pizza experience.  It's enough of challenge when this all falls to one person, an artiste who controls every single pizza, but most pizzerias are too big and busy for this and must rely on a team of well-trained pizzaioli, and each member of that team carries the whole reputation of the restaurant on his or her shoulders. In the case of Pizzeria Mozza, the transmission of the artisan spirit must travel from Nancy (and Mario, though Nancy is the pizza visionary while Mario focuses on the menu at Osteria Mozza next door),  through Matt, and then through him to his team. We've seen the same challenge at other places we've featured such as Pizzeria Delfina and Tony's Pizza Napoletana and, of course, at many other pizzerias we've not yet featured in webisodes. We also have all seen how at some of establishments, when this transmission breaks down so does the reputation of the restaurant.  You can tell from Matt's personality that he'd be a great guy to work under, that he takes his responsibilities seriously, and it's obvious from the consistency of the pizzas that emerge from the almond wood-fired brick ovens that the transmission of the original spirit definitely gets through to everyone.

If you enjoy this segment, as I think you will, please go back through all the Mozza episodes, including a visit to the famous La Brea Bakery where the doughs are made (about 700 every day -- that's a lot of pizza!), a session with Matt making us some pizzas, and also watch our sit-down with Nancy Silverton and well-known food writers Russ Parsons, and Kristine Kidd.  These segments convey far more than I can in written words the excitement that great pizza evokes in all of us.

You'll notice that I used that word, great, intentionally. The pizzas at Mozza are among the greatest in the world, in my opinion, and this greatness is a result of more than any one thing or one person, but it all starts with a vision and a visionary who is committed to greatness. We all know of such places and people, and we take great joy here at Pizza Quest in celebrating them and sharing them with you.

 

 
Peter's Blog, February 24th
Peter Reinhart

Hi again.  We've kept a lot of recent postings on the home page because we've been getting a number of new viewers and one thing I've noticed is that most people tend to stay on the home page rather than explore the archives or section categories (I know this thanks to Google Analytics!!). So, we're going to leave things up as long as we can before they automatically default to the archive section to allow as many of you as possible to catch up to some of the ongoing topic points. But I do encourage you to visit the various sections, as you will find lots of golden oldies there and, to our great surprise, we've been astonished to see how much material we managed to post in just over a year. If I didn't have a conflict of interest I'd say, "Quite impressive!"  Oh look, I said it anyway.

One of the recurring themes that you will see in these past (and future) postings is the celebration of the artisan spirit and what we think is their expression of greatness, whether in pizza or in any pursuit.  Chris Bianco once told me that he's tired of hearing the word "passion" bandied about so frequently when it comes to greatness because he doesn't think it is the vital defining quality that everyone else thinks it is. I believe I know what he means and, perhaps, a better way to utilize that passion word is to frame it within a larger definition of greatness. Passion probably is, as Philosophy 101 would term it, a necessary but not sufficient cause. Passion, as many of us might also say, has become a cliche. And here on Pizza Quest one of the things we strive to get beyond is cliche. So the question still stands: what is the defining quality of greatness?

We've focused in these articles and webisodes on technique, method, ingredient quality, the virtues of local, organic, wholeness (as in whole grain), authenticity, tradition, and, of course, on passion. I've cited another quote of Chris's that he gave me when I was writing "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," when I asked him what was the secret to his amazing pizzas; his response was (after citing the quality of the ingredients and the dedication of his growers and suppliers as necessary but not sufficient causes), "It's me, I'm the secret. I can teach people my tricks and techniques but I can't teach them to care as much as I care," and this drills down a bit closer to the core of the matter. But we're still always drilling even deeper, trying to capture that elusive something that would answer, once and for all, "What is the secret to greatness?" Yes, caring more than anyone else is yet another necessary but not sufficient cause, but even that doesn't scratch the itch beneath the itch. So what is it then?  Do you see why we call it a quest?

I'm a firm believer that the most important things we strive for are ordained to be elusive, like a carrot on a stick and even when we find what we're looking for we rarely recognize it in the moment, and then we realize, later, that now it's just behind us, a memory. That's what most people refer to as nostalgia, looking back to happier or significant times with a kind of regretful longing, as if things will never be quite that good again. But a truer, deeper, and more literal meaning of the word nostalgia (and I've written about this in earlier blog postings) means, "A longing for one's true home, yet to come."  C.S. Lewis is my go to guy for this one and he believed that this longing is more a forward thrusting, not a backwards glance to the past, though the emotions this longing evokes are often similar. Whether it touches upon a distant memory or is an intuition of a memory not yet experienced, outside the realm of time but nevertheless a future reality -- well, those are two sides of the same coin, and another vague and ambiguous way of defining that coin is "soulful."  Yet even as I write these words I'm reminded, again, that the more we try to define it in words the more elusive it becomes. But an encounter with it somehow rings within our own beings, our souls, and whether in the moment or after the fact, we recognize it when we see it.  We've been defining this encounter as "memorable," as a way to distinguish it from other experiences that are merely good, status quo, or expected. An "abnormal, memorable moment that opens a door into a longing for something true, something lasting, maybe even eternal, maybe home...,"  and then it's just out of reach again, and it becomes an inconsolable longing.

And that's why the search for the perfect pizza is both a great metaphor and also an earthly delight. Because, fortunately for us, in this quest we do have a chance from time to time to encounter a real, literal slice of nearly heavenly joy and to establish new reference points and new memories for greatness, even if we can't quite put our finger on the words. And then we get to start again....

 
Peter's Blog, Feb. 17th, 2012 -- Great News!
Peter Reinhart

Yesterday was my birthday and among the terrific gifts I received, including a fabulous dinner with Susan at Charlotte's  delightfully romantic Passion8 Bistro -- a real gem of a place -- I got some especially great news: Pizza Quest has been nominated by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (the IACP) as one of three finalists for best food blog of the year! Here's a link to all the nominees in the book and media categories: http://eater.com/archives/2012/02/16/iacp-announces-2012-food-writing-finalists.php

I'll be in NYC for the annual IACP Conference, where the winners will be announced at the awards gala on April 2nd, and where I will also be doing a demo presentation on sprouted grain flours on April 1st. The IACP is an amazing organization,

 

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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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