Wed. We're halfway through the photo shoot and have come with some great shots and lots of product to bring to Omnivore tonight at 6 PM. There's always something going into or coming out of the oven, eventually being styled by Karen Shinto into a composition that Leo can assess and light for the camera. The rest of us gather around and offer suggestions or ooohhs and aahhh's and then Leo pulls the trigger and a number of variations of the original shot show up a video monitor until we have some that everyone likes. We've been very happy, and the collaborative process seems to be working.
I'm writing this now on Thursday, the day after the Omnivore event and after an exciting evening of pizza at -- here it comes....Una Pizza Napoletana, the one-of-a-kind pizzeria helmed by the now legendary Anthony Mangiere. I'll come back to that in a bit but first, a quick recap of Omnivore. Omnivore Books is owned by Celia Sack, and has, in the few years since I've been dropping in, established itself as a serious destination cook book store (and also a sweet pet supply store in the adjoining location next door), despite the small space located way out in Noe Valley. Celia runs a fine author program too, bringing in many A-list writers as well lesser known niche writers like me. Last evening she was able to draw about 30 people, some who had traveled from as far as Monterey and the East Bay. Denene had a chance to tell them her story, of creating the gluten-free, sugar free recipes that the book is based upon, as a way to heal her body and reverse her type-2 diabetes. The crowd, which mainly came to hear about pizza, seemed really interested in the gluten free phenomenon and they all got a chance for a sneak-peek taste of some of the products that we brought from the photo shoot.
Afterwards, a few of us headed over to 11th and Howard St., a rough looking neighborhood with and lots of locked doors, and nearly walked right past Una Pizza Napoletana until we caught the reddish glow emanating from a blue mosaic tiled domed oven and then saw a dining room full of happy pizza freaks. Once inside, I saw Anthony Mangieri woking at a small, spare pizza table, his back to the oven, which he would then face, pivoting around with a loaded peel as he slid another pizza through the open door. Two minutes later a beautiful, puffily charred pizza emerged, landed on a plate, which was then quickly escorted by one of the servers to whoever ordered it. Anthony was so focused on filling the steady stream of tickets that he hardly noticed me clicking away on my Leica Lumix while we waited for a table to clear for our group of eight (it was about a 20 minute wait). We ordered 6 pizzas among us, as they were running low on dough balls and a few people came in after us, but we could easily have consumed a whole pizza per person. They were wonderful--both traditional in appearance and balance of ingredients but also distinct and uniquely unlike anyone else's Napoletana pizzas.
I loved the slight tang of his naturally fermented dough-- perfect in San Francisco, which made me wonder why more pizzerias didn't capitalize on the ambient, only-in-San Francisco sourdough cultures. The crust was light and tender, but full of the ciabatta-like structure that I crave in pizza. We were all happy campers, whether we ordered the Margherita, or two variations -- one with smoked mozzarella and arugula, and the other with sliced cherry tomatoes and garlic as well as fresh mozzarella. So I waited till the dough had run out and Anthony was able to decompress a bit from his lazer-like focus and introduced myself. I instantly liked him and his earnestness, and introduced him to Melissa (my editor from Ten Speed Press) and Leo, our photographer and asked him if he'd be willing to let us come back with the Pizza Quest crew someday. He said yes, so I decided not to push into interview mode but to allow him his well deserved after-performance wind-down. There's so much I want to talk with him about -- I think there's a lot going on below the surface that contributes to the depth of our collective experience. Leo and I discussed, as we left, how much it seemed like Anthony's make-up station was like an altar, and how he was like the high priest as he placed his pizzas into the consuming fire of the domed oven that looked like a miniature Byzantine church. It was like a laicized iteration of a sacred ritual, a sacramentalizing of an otherwise ordinary mundane event. In other words, a manifestation of everything I've been writing about for twenty years -- that every meal has the potential to be a Last Supper, a bringing together of heaven and earth -- or not. It all depends on the eyes of those doing the looking (or eating), and also those doing the cooking. I could go on and on about this but want to wait till I get back to have a real sit-down with Anthony and see how much of this is conscious on his part and how much just unintended grace. Should be a lively discussion. I'll be back one more time this week with a wrap up of our SF adventure. We now have only four more beauty shots to take on Friday, as well as the author shots (Denene and I are already planning our wardrobes!). Brad has promised to insert a few of the photos I'm sending him tonight (he's the only one on our team who knows how to load photos into the blogs--something I still have to learn), so keep checking back. More to come from San Francisco....