Peter's Blog
Peters Blog, December 13th, 2011
Peter Reinhart

Hard to believe how soon Christmas and Chanukah will be upon us. If you are like Susan and me, things start to get a little frantic around now, with too many things to get done and nowhere near the time to do so. So, as a favor to us all, we'll be wrapping up this, our first year (yes, we actually launched on Dec. 14th of 2010 -- wow, seems like the fastest year I've ever known), with one final Tony Gemignani video. It's been a great thrill for us to have so much Tony footage to share with you, and this last one, which we'll post on Thursday, finds us on a hill above the Golden Gate Bridge, looking back over the city of San Francisco, ruminating on his amazing success.  You've seen a snippet of this in the "Pizza As Obsession" video that we launched Pizza Quest with last year (and it's still at the top of the Home Page for all newcomers to this site), so it's only appropriate to bring things full circle as the year comes to an end.  During the past few months of these Tony G. videos I had a chance to visit Tony's Pizza Napoletana again, as I blogged back in November, during the exact time that USA Today wrote him up as the best pizzeria in America. It had nothing to do with us and the webisode series -- the author found Tony on his own and the timing was coincidental (if there is such a thing as a coincidence)-- but we do like to consider ourselves good luck charms in these things. We were especially lucky that we ate there the night before the article came out, as Tony told me the lines were around the block, with a minimum four hour wait, the next day after the story broke.I can honestly say that we had no idea the story was coming out so, once again, the pizza gods were watching over us.

Yes, it's been an eventful year and I'll come back one more time before it ends, between Christmas and New Years, with an end of the year wrap up. Then, we'll be back next year, in 2012, with all new content for you.

Of course, we do have a new recipe for you this week from Brad, as he continues to tweak his own version of the "Signature Pizza" we developed with Kelly Whitaker in September, as revealed during the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Brad was lucky enough to get his hands on a whole keg of the fabulous beer that The Bruery made for that challenge event, the instant classic, Birra Basta, and it seems to have inspired him to keep pushing the envelope on creating matching pizzas. You'll see his newest version on Wednesday.

So, enjoy this week's Pizza Quest treats and I'll be back in two weeks with our first ever year end wrap-up. I hope it will be the first of many to come. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and, throughout 2012 and beyond, may your pizzas all be perfect!

 

 
Peter's Blog, December 5th
Peter Reinhart

Normally I try to post a new Peter's Blog every Tuesday, and I plan to do another one this week, but not till Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, because I want to wait until I return from the ribbon cutting ceremony at Charlotte's new 7th Street Public Market. It's a project that has been two years in the making and, I hope, will signify a major shift in the cultural culinary scene in this city. I've been fortunate to serve on the Board of Directors for this project and the ribbon cutting marks the opening day of commerce in this new farm to table, year round, daily, artisanal marketplace. I'll be back in 24 hours or so with my report and more thoughts on the Public Market.

In the meantime, Brad is working on another original pizza pictorial and we'll be posting that on Wednesday. So keep checking back, as there's always something new here at Pizza Quest.

 

...I'm back from the ribbon cutting ceremony and, of course, I'm jazzed. The mayor of Charlotte, Anthony Foxx, was there along with the head of the host committee for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, Dr. Dan Murrey (who is also the Chairman of the Board for the 7th Street Public Market). Representatives from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Health Care of the Carolinas, the Market's two major sponsors who financially made it possible, along with Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners, the visionary group that ideated the whole concept, also offered welcoming comments and helped the mayor cut the ribbon (actually a construction rope) to officially open the market.  Christy Shi, the Executive Director of the Market, has been working around the clock for months leading up to this moment which, for Charlotte, is historic because it signifies a huge statement of support for sustainability and local agriculture, as well as for artisans of all types. It is, in fact, the beginning of something important for this city.

Okay, so why is this such a big deal? There are thousands of farmers markets all over the place, as well as urban markets like The Reading Terminal Market in Philly, Pike's Market in Seattle, The Ferry Terminal Market in San Francisco, and many others. Markets like these help define the identity of their region and the people who live in it. Charlotte, for example, is a growing city, on its way to becoming a major city, populated by a very diverse crowd from all over the world. Yet, unlike other cities near to us, such as Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, and even Chapel Hill, all of which have very strong cultural food identities, Charlotte is still in its discovery process when it comes to food and culinary identity. We have a number of dedicated farmers surrounding the city, some amazing pork, poultry, and beef producers, year round vegetables,  a young but vibrant wine industry just up the road, access to great Mid-Atlantic seafood, an emerging micro-brewery culture, the first few entries in what promises to be a large farmstead cheese community -- all the pieces are coming together but there really hasn't been a central place, until now, that celebrates -- and sells -- these on a daily, year round basis. We are, at last, moving from the hobby phase to the "this is who we are" phase; from the "wouldn't it be nice" phase to the "this is how it should be" phase. All the values of The Slow Food Movement, the sustainable agriculture community, the Chefs' Collaborative, and other worthy organizations are embodied in this new Public Market, which is really an incubator for small start-ups that will eventually grow into successful, impactful businesses.  This is the Market's vision, which includes supporting other organizations that serve areas we call "food deserts," neighborhoods that don't have access to good products and practical food or health education.

We've discussed on this site the idea of food being a signifier of one's cultural identity. Living as we do in a "tossed salad" society (the new version of "melting pot"), cultural identity is often a difficult thing to pin down. But we all recognize that food is one of the front line aspects of identity (hey, I'm from Philly, home of hoagies, cheese steaks, roast pork sandwiches; when I lived in Rhode Island it was all about the quahog stuffed clams, spaghetti and "gravy," and, more recently, grilled pizza -- nearly every region has such identifiers). I think that one of the next steps in the unfolding of Charlotte's identity will be some locally produced foods that become associated with this city. We're going to take a stab at it with the new sprouted wheat pizzas that will be served at Pure Pizza in the Public Market (opening is slated for mid January), but I have a hunch that one of the biggies will be a new benchmark version of pork tacos, perhaps made with a signature sauce and local cheese -- a Charlotte equivalent of a Philly Cheese Steak. I just saw in today's paper that we just got our first Korean Taco truck, so we'll see how that catches on. Things are starting to happen and I think this new market, championing local products, is a big piece of the puzzle.

My sense is that similar projects are happening around the country as well as around the world. We'd love to hear about how this celebration of local, artisanal, and benchmark products is manifesting in your region. Please send us your comments and your stories. If you want to flesh it out in the form of a commentary, we'll consider featuring it in our Guest Column section. Meanwhile, I'm heading back to the Market -- a new era has begun….

 
Peter's Blog, Nov. 29th
Peter Reinhart

Thank you all for coming back!

It was wonderful to have a short break, the latest diet has begun in my never ending "quest" to work off all that turkey and gravy, and yet it's time to get back on the Pizza Quest bus. My calendar suddenly filled up this week with unexpected projects and deadlines, so I'm a little behind on my weekly Tuesday blog posting, so will write in more depth later tonight when I return. But, till then, let me give you a quick preview of what's coming up this week:

--A new recipe from Brad on Wednesday.

--A new video with Tony Gemignani in which he takes us on a field trip, literally, to the fields of Stanislaus Tomatoes, where we get to participate in the harvest, briefly, and shake some beautiful plum tomatoes off the vines.

--A guest column from the ever popular and thought-provoking Michael Hanson, in which he shares some new thoughts on "bread as the ferment of social change."

I'll be back later with my own thoughts, so keep checking back -- another full week here on Pizza Quest...

...Okay, I'm back (yes, it's Wed.morning -- I got back too late from last night's gala Chamber of Commerce event in which we met not only the Governor of NC, Bev Perdue, but heard the exciting announcement that Chiquita is moving their world headquarters here to Charlotte, which is huge news for our city. Now I have to find a way to make a killer banana pizza so I can get on their good side! They'll be taking four or five floors in the NASCAR Hall of Fame building for their HQ, which is a win-win for everyone since that building, which is pretty cool in its own right, has been struggling with attendance and occupancy in this recent economy. But maybe it's turning around -- at least in this town, where we're also gearing up for the Democratic National Convention (pizza anyone??!). On top of all that, next Tuesday we cut the ribbon for our new Seventh Street Public Market where, in January, we'll be opening our new pizzeria featuring the sprouted wheat flour crust as well as a gluten free crust. So, whew, lots going on here...

Speaking of exciting news, and I usually don't do this but I'm really excited for our friends Cary and Lillian Steiner. I'm reprinting a letter I just got from them about their new venture. As passionate pizza questors, creators of the passion-4-pizza.com blog, and long-time supporters of my own journey, I'm passing this on to you both as an example of folks who walk the talk and also as a possible investment for some of you armchair questors who'd like to jump on their "bus" and ride along. Here's their note--I'll jump back in at the end with some further comments:

Dear Friends,

As subscribers to our newsletter, you know that the two of us have been on a fascinating pizza journey since we started passion-4-pizza.com in 2008. Eating pizza in exotic (and not-very-exotic) locations, making and experimenting with our own pizza, getting to know pizza-makers and pizza lovers all over the place, and most importantly, studying both the craft and the business of pizza from the masters.

Well, we're doing a lot more than that.

We're in the early stages of the biggest project of our lives, the zenith of our passion for pizza. Lillian and Cary are going pro. We're going into business by opening Pizzeria Forno in the Hudson Valley region of New York - a vegetarian pizzeria in a country setting (serving both artisanal wood-fired pizza and the New York styles we’ve always loved) and Il Forno Mobile - taking our artisanal pizza to the people via a mobile wood-fired oven from The Fire Within!

You're among the first to know and we hope you'll want to share in this adventure.

We’re looking for financial partners. Our business plan is encouraging and we're offering a limited number of old and new friends, family members, and you our subscribers, the opportunity to invest in our passion, our skills and our dream as we build Pizzeria Forno and Il Forno Mobile. And we’re doing our best to make that investment affordable.

Want to know more about participating in (and profiting from) our dream-come-true? There's so much to tell, and we're so excited about this... send us an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and we'll get right back to you!

All the best,

Cary & Lillian

Great news, Cary and Lillian!!  This is a wonderful example of folks who are following their dream, and of course, I'm thrilled to see that they are using one of the terrific mobile oven units made by our own sponsor, The Fire Within.  So, for those who can, give Cary and Lillian a shout or, better yet, if the fire is burning in your own belly to pursue such a dream, write to them and to us and we'll all help you get out the word. Joseph, at The Fire Within, has worked up some very useful business models and plans to help, so the resources are available. All I can add is to encourage you all to go for it -- as we often say, the quest never ends and you never know where it will lead.

 
Peter's Blog, November 15th
Peter Reinhart

It's been a hectic few days and I have a meeting to attend in a few minutes, so I will return later today to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, here's what you have to look forward to this week:

Wed: A new recipe by Brad English, our "everyman" pizzaiolo. This time he tackles the challenging Marinara Pizza.

Thursday: A new video -- this week an interview with the editor of Salute Magazine who visited us while we were filming with Tony Gemignani, about the Italian-American experience and how it relates to the entire immigrant experience of melting pot America (now often referred to as a "salad bowl" rather than a melting pot because of how many diverse cultures are getting tossed together).

Friday: A new guest column by the popular John Arena.

As I said, I'll be back later today with more Peter's Blog. A full week of new content awaits....

Okay, I'm back, having just come from the location of Charlotte's soon to open 7venth St. Public Market. Construction and build-out is going on at a brisk pace in order to be ready for the ribbon cutting on November 30th at noon (come if you are in the area). It will be our (Charlotte's) own version of the Ferry Terminal Market I wrote about a few weeks ago in San Francisco. Ours will, of course, be much smaller and have a style of its own, a Charlottean style, featuring locally grown or prepared foods and other artisan products. I'm on the market's board, so am especially proud of it and of our Executive Director, Christy Shi, who is doing an amazing job of bring the vision into focus (here's a portion of the market's vision statement: "The 7venth St. Public Market provides high-quality, fresh, and affordable food from local farms and regional purveyors. It is the anchor of a dynamic market district that serves as an authentic community gathering place."

One of the market's purposes is to serve as an incubator for food-related businesses, and so I am happy to report that there will be a brand new pizza cafe located in the market featuring sprouted wheat pizza crust. I am serving as a consulting partner in this cafe (the name has yet to be announced), and we're getting very excited about being the first pizzeria anywhere to use organic, sprouted wheat (and also sprouted ancient grain blends), milled right here in North Carolina (for newcomers to this site, go back to the April Peter's Blog archives to read about this amazing flour, which I first presented at the Asheville Bread Festival with miller Joe Lindley). The pizzeria won't be ready to open on the market's opening day -- there's a lot of electrical and construction still to do -- but hopefully by the end of the year. I will tell you more as we get closer to launch, but I can say that everyone involved in this project is very excited, not only because of how delicious the pizzas will be, using fresh products brought to the market every day by the other vendors, but also about the whole market, and how it will reflect and support the sustainability values of this region. For us, it's a perfect fit at the perfect time; for Charlotte, it's a huge step and statement about its commitment to supporting local farmers, growers, and artisans. For the public, it will especially mean good eats!! I'll report on the opening in two weeks and also on the progress of the pizza cafe, so keep checking back.

 
Peter's Blog, November 8th, 2011
Peter Reinhart

First, I want to welcome our newest sponsor to Pizza Quest, our friends from Central Milling in Petaluma, California. This company is headed up by my longtime friend, Keith Giusto, one of the finest bakers in America and also one of our greatest millers--rarely does someone possess world class skills in both realms, and we're very proud to have Central Milling in our growing stable of Pizza Quest sponsors. You've read in this blog how we used Keith's (and his nephew Nicky's) latest flour blends to create the "Challenge Pizza Dough" in Denver, so I hope you'll click through to the Central Milling website and check them out -- this is a company dedicated to producing the absolutely finest flour in the country and, quite possibly, the world. It is my understanding that there will even be bread classes and demos at their Petaluma headquarters --you'll have to contact them for details (the website has a contact section)-- but you should also learn about the actual original Central Mills -- the mills themselves-- in Utah, where the magic really happens. Thanks for your support Keith and Nicky, and your whole team at Central Milling. Welcome onto the Pizza Quest bus….

Meanwhile, I've been ruminating all week about the two extraordinary pizza experiences I recently had in San Francisco at Una Pizza Napoletana and also at Tony's Pizza Napoletana. The reason I can't stop thinking about these places is because they are so totally different from each other yet each represents a level of excellence and artistry that is extremely rare in the pizza world (though the list of pizzerias operating at this level is growing by the day, to the benefit of all of us). These two places, though, are the yin and yang of artisan pizza. Tony's features eight different styles (see last week's Peter's Blog), all executed at at benchmark levels, while Una Pizza Napoletana makes one style, a unique iteration of classic Napoletana but with a wild yeast crust, created and crafted  by Anthony Mangieri in a small, almost zen-like fashion, on a small work station with a beautiful blue tiled oven at his back.

One can't help but be awed at both places, yet in very different ways and for different reasons.

Tony Gemignani's ambitions make it impossible for one person, Tony, to make all the pizzas himself so he is dependent on a team of personally trained cooks (he also runs a pizzaiolo certification school next to the restaurant) who must also make pasta, his legendary meatballs, and many other classic Italian-American menu items.  His restaurant is an emporium, a massive statement on a grand stage in the heart of San Francisco's most famous neighborhood, North Beach, across the street from the church where Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, around the corner from City Lights Bookstore where Allen Ginsberg and the other beatnik poets dominated the literary landscape, and just blocks from Fisherman's Wharf.  In one of our early webisodes with Tony we went to the top of a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, looking back on the city of San Francisco as if it were the Emerald City (which it is, as anyone who has ever lived or visited there knows). I asked him how it felt to be the newest star on the biggest stage and Tony, who is no stranger to acclaim and cheering crowds, seemed awed himself as he took in the immensity of his striving. It was a defining moment for each of us, I think. In future webisodes we'll get to explore a little more of the fire that burns in his belly, that drives the desire to climb to these heights. He is the George M. Cohan, the John Wayne, the Michael Jackson of the pizza world and we're delighted to be able to give you a glimpse of his artistry.

I'm hoping we'll be able to go back to San Francisco in the near future and explore in an equally deep manner the fire that burns in Anthony Mangieri's belly because, while Tony's is like a grand Broadway musical, a "Phantom of the Opera" playing to 2,000 people a night in a majestic theater, Anthony's place is like a small off-Broadway theater playing The Fantasticks to a 90 people a night (btw, "The Fantasticks" ran for about 30 years in that tiny theater -- not sure if Anthony will want to do it for so long, though).

What I'm trying to say is that I really want to get inside that monkish complexity I experienced at Una Pizza Napoletana; the oven itself was so clearly like, in a purely metaphorical way of course, a The Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple, a consuming, transformative fire that transmuted dough, cheese, and sauce into a new something, into a a one of a kind pizza. I'm just dying to know how much of that design was conscious and intentional and how much simply an intuitive stumbling into the mystic. That's what's on my list for my next trip to San Francisco because experiencing Tony's and Anthony's pizzerias on two consecutive nights reminded me that there are many paths to the Holy Grail; soulfulness can manifest in St. Peter's Cathedral and also in a desert monastery or in a lonely mountain top and, in the end, the only thing that actually matters is that it inspires us and touches us in the center of our being. Two paths, two distinctively personal quests, but one ultimate destination, sought after and celebrated night after night after night. As we've said before, the quest never ends....

 
Peter's Blog, Nov. 1st
Peter Reinhart

I'm home, Halloween has passed (we got a record number of kids this year), and I've started a serious diet after last week's blow-out in San Francisco. I'll be back later today with more details on that, but wanted to let you know what else we have on tap for this week in addition to the recap of last week.

On Wed. we'll have a new recipe from Brad, who has been on fire recently with new variations of pizza using the Challenge Pizza Dough.

On Thursday we have yet another webisode featuring Tony Gemignani, whose restaurant was just named best pizzeria in America by USA Today.

And on Friday, well, I'm working on that...

More soon, so do check back.

Okay, I'm back so here's the rest of the story:

Continuing on with the San Francisco saga: I mentioned that a few of us went to Tony's Pizza Napoletana on Thursday night, just prior to discovering the USA Today article proclaiming it the best pizzeria in the USA. It's a good thing we went when we did as Tony called me the following evening and told me the lines were around the block!

As you will see in the photos, one of the pizzas that seems to be generating some buzz, among the eight styles featured on the menu (nine if you count his new gluten-free pizzas), is the Pizza Romana, baked at 700 degrees F. in an electric brick oven. It's long and wide (about 4 feet long and 18" wide, by my estimation), and a great "table pizza" for a large group, as our neighbors at the next table over were -- and they seemed exceedingly happy! You get to choose four toppings from four different ingredient sections, so it really is a  crowd pleaser. Our table didn't order one so I can't report on the crust but, judging from the pizzas we did order, I can't imagine it being anything but great.


Our group, on the other hand, got a few Napoletana-style pizzas (the Championship Margherita, naturally, though they were out of the San Felice dough balls but, as you can see in the webisodes, Caputo and San Felice are comparable so we were very happy). I also ordered a Spacca Napoli pizza from the Napoletana section of the menu, which is made with mozzarella di bufala and cherry tomatoes -- similar to the same version under a different name we had at Una Pizza Napoletana the previous night. The only difference was the crust (Una uses a wild yeast crust and I'm not sure what flour but it seems different from Tony's -- both are superb in their own way and the table was divided over whose version they preferred -- a nice dilemma to have).

But the surprise hit of the night was the Tony Two Times pizza, listed in the Classic American category. I'll return to this in a moment but first let me tell you about all the other categories: there's one called Detroit Style (square, butter toasted corners, takes 25 minutes so you know it's got to be loaded); Sicilian Style (you can see that in last week's webisode); California Style (lots of wild flavor combo's made in a wood-fired oven with Caputo flour -- kind of a Napoletana crust with creative toppings not found in traditional Naples pizzerias); Classic Italian (Tony calls one of them The Cal Italia and describes the crust as "medium" in thickness -- I wish I had tried one of these for comparison purposes but I totally missed it on the far right side of the menu); Coal Fired Style, based on the classic New Haven and Lombardi's/Totonno's NY pizzas, baked in a 1000 degree oven); and finally, St. Louis Style (thin crust, provel cheese -- I'm probably one of the few non St. Louis natives who actually loves this style, but not as much I love the Coal and wood-fired styles).

There are also lots of salads, stromboli, calzone, killer meat balls (Tony is rightfully very proud of these and we got two orders), sausage and peppers, burgers with burrata cheese and other creative burgers, Chciken Parmigiana with pasta -- I mean the menu is like Disney World --something for everyone and too many things to experience in just one or even four visits. So I will be back. I'm especially upset with myself for missing a chance to try the coal-fired clam and bacon pizza. I simply missed it in the nearly hidden bottom middle of the menu, until we had already stuffed ourselves silly. I will be sure to get that the next time I'm in SF.

Oh yes, the Tony Two Times is listed thus: "mozzarella, two times the garlic, and two times the sausage, two times the bell peppers."  Yes, this was a garlic and sausage blast and we all had to have a slice just in self defense! But what really pleased me was how good the crust was. This was, in my estimation, a NY Style pizza crust comparable to the one served at Apizza Scholls in Portland (one of my favorite pizzerias in the country). It was an unexpected surprise and pleased me greatly.

Let me say this: when you go, whether with a group or alone (and I suggest with a group so you can try lots of things), take your time before ordering because the menu is so extensive you will invariably miss something and experience buyers remorse. But it's brilliant on Tony's part because then you feel compelled to return again and again. Of course, this only works if you really believe he pulled it off -- that he can actually back his boast to have mastered all these various styles. Personally, I'm convinced and impressed, and kudos to his team of pizzaioli and also his front of the house staff who were all gracious and friendly, not just to us but to the entire packed house. I have never been a fan of people trying to do too much, but Tony is Mozartian in his prodigiousness. Tony's reminded me of the scene in Amadeus where the king accuses Wolfie of using too many notes and he replies, "No, there are just the right amount." Only a rare few can work on that kind of canvas.  And by way of contrast, Anthony Mangieri is Chopin-esque in his minimalism and tight focus at Una Pizza Napoletana -- I felt fortunate to have experienced them both in successive nights.

Before I sign off I want to mention that, in celebration of completing our successful photo shoot, we (my wife Susan, co-author Denene Wallace, and Denene's mom Dot) headed up to Santa Rosa on Saturday. Denene and I were guests on The Good Food Hour on KSRO radio (one of the longest running radio food shows in the country), with my old friend Steve Garner, where we made the first official announcement of title of our book: The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, with a publication date set for August, 2012. Before the show we stopped by the bakery to see what was there in its place and, low and behold, it was a gluten-free bakery called The Bliss Bakery. Couldn't have planned it better if I tried and I wish them the best of success.

After the radio show we gathered with friends and headed to Guy Fieri's new restaurant, Tex-Wasabi, in downtown Santa Rosa (only a few miles from where Susan and I used to live and where our bakery, Brother Juniper's was located -- it was kind of a homecoming of sorts). Guy is Santa Rosa's biggest star these days and his first restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, is still going strong, just a short hop from where our bakery was and where we first met Guy when he was just a newbie in the business -- who knew??.  The lunch at Tex-Wasabi was really fun--Guy has picked up some great tricks while on the diner and dive circuit and the best of them are on his very eclectic menu, including some innovative sushi and beautifully smoked meats. It was, like Tony's, an example of what a prodigy can do when he has enough money (or backers) to go for the big statement. I'd go back for the roasted chili peppers appetizer alone, but if I still lived in Santa Rosa I could see myself eating there a lot -- it's what I call fun food, and it's done well. Like Tony, he pulled it off. Way to go Guy!

Okay, enough -- my head is still spinning and jet lag is biting me in the butt, but this will give you a taste of how the quest just never seems to end -- and why should it? More soon….

 

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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.

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