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....