Pizza Quest Webisodes
Cass House Inn, Finale
Peter Reinhart

So, how did we end up at The Cass House Inn? After all, it's not a pizzeria, it's far from big population centers, and we're ending this series not with a pizza but with a fancy lamb dish and a plush wine. To answer this question let me reiterate what Pizza Quest is beyond the search for the perfect pizza: a celebration of artisans and artisanship (or, as noted in our Vision Statement, over in the right hand column of the website, "…a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms…").

Some background: We were headed to San Francisco on our first road trip, having filmed a great series of webisodes with Nancy Silverton at Pizzeria Mozza in LA, when Brad suggested we veer off the highway and visit a place in Cayucos, on the coast, that he had recently discovered. As we've mentioned before, there's a certain kind of magic and "go with the flow" energy that takes over when you are on a road trip, and sometimes you feel like surrendering and just trusting the "road." So we did and, as a result, ended up with great footage at a number of places that you've already seen, including The Taco Temple (I can still taste that killer Sea Scallop Taco), the Brown Butter Cookie Company, Ruddell's Smoke House, and especially The Cass House Inn. If Pizza Quest is, as we say, more about the quest than about the pizza, these various webisodes make the point better than any words -- and the pizza was pretty amazing too, even if the Cass House Inn is not a pizzeria; I'd put our smoked albacore pizza and Jensen's Merguez Lamb Sausage pizza up against any pizza we've had anywhere.

So, on Pizza Quest we just follow the bread crumb trail, wherever it leads, and let the magic of the Quest do the rest. One of the takeaways for us during our maiden road trip, of which we still have upcoming footage to show you, is how important it is to put yourself on a quest, whether it be for pizza or anything of value, and how the simple declaratory act of questing creates a vacuum that gets filled in with all sorts of unanticipated adventures. It's the side trips, the detours, the following of the signs that provide the bonus features, not only on film but in life.

In this final installment from the Cass House Inn, Chef Jensen takes us into his kitchen as he prepares a lamb tenderloin, wrapped in caul fat, along with accompaniments such as ratatouille and raitta (yogurt sauce), that earlier had appeared on his Merguez pizza. In other words, a white tablecloth versus checkered tablecloth expression of similar flavors and influences. What I like about all this is that it captures one important aspect of the artisan at work, the ability to think outside the box, utilize local, seasonal ingredients, and connect the dots on the flavor trail (another variation of what I, a baker, call the bread crumb trail) to create new, exciting gastronomic experiences. This webisode segment, then, is like a mini-seminar in creativity, including the choice of wine that Grace Lorenzen shows us at the end.

But, my favorite moment in this segment is, and it happens quickly so don't miss it, when Jensen drizzles his reduction lamb demi glace jus over the plated lamb. It was a wow for me then, and watching the video brought me back to that moment and how intense and visceral it was, tapping into an emotional place within me in that unique way that truly great sauces can. I've often said that if I could start over as a chef I would probably become a saucier, as I believe that making sauces is the most alchemical of all cooking, it's like cooking on an altar, transmutational and, at its highest expression, a signifier of transcendence. Since you didn't actually get to taste the sauce in the video as I did seeing it now may not transport you as it did me, but keep an eye out for that moment, near the end, and let me know if you can catch even a glimpse of what I'm talking about.

For me, these are the defining Quest moments, and I want to thank Jensen and Grace Lorenzen one final time for letting us into their world nestled in a small sliver of Central California's Coastal region. Let us know if you ever get to The Cass House Inn and, if you do, say hi to Grace and Jensen for all of us here at Pizza Quest. And get some of that reduction sauce!

 
The Brown Butter Cookie Company, Cayucos, CA
Peter Reinhart

Traci Nixon and Christa Hozie had an idea and they went for it. Somehow, they have managed to make a style of cookies so tasty that, even hidden away in the small town of Cayucos, people from all over the country have found them. They told me that a lot of their business is by mail order, so feel free to check out their website and give them a shout.

As our quest evolved while we were filming with Chef Jensen and his wife Grace, we took a little break while Jensen did some prep and wandered over to this little shop, just a few yards from the Cass House Inn, and met the delightful Traci and Christa. We had seen the sign when we pulled up to the Cass House Inn earlier in the day and Brad had told us all about these cookies from when he had first met Jensen a few weeks earlier.  So, it was only a matter of time, when even a slight window of opportunity opened up, that we found ourselves "wandering" over to check it out.  Actually, Brad was with one of the cameramen shooting some B-Roll shots of Jensen in the kitchen and we snuck away with the rest of the crew to explore - no...well to "investigate" this cookie company.   We did get a little footage before we had to return and thought it would be a nice "palate cleanser" from the pizza footage to give you a glimpse of their shop. What I especially admire about this place is how they took a simple but powerful culinary concept, browning butter to bring out maximum flavor, and then built a whole product line on it. That's "Grass Roots Marketing 101," and so I found it very inspirational and hope you do as well.

Note:  When we filmed here they had 2 main brown butter cookies with sprinkled sea salt on top:  The Original and The Cocoa.  If you happen to swing by now, or go online you will see they have added quite a few new flavors!

Here is their website:  http://www.brownbuttercookies.com/

 
Jensen's Lamb Merguez Pizza
Peter Reinhart

One of the great joys in being on the quest for perfect pizza is that it truly is a discovery process. As Chef Jensen Lorenzen and I played in his outdoor kitchen at the Cass House Inn I think we both felt that we were stepping into exciting, new territory. He knows food and ingredients and how flavors come together; I know dough; he had a brand new wood-fired oven that he was just learning to "drive," and some great ingredients; I had a camera crew and a Pizza Quest team in search of new flavor frontiers -- it was a spontaneous adventure for all of us to see what we could create with the cameras running. In this webisode you'll see some of Jensen's creative process, how a chef thinks about ingredients and how, by using certain flavors in concert with others, he can create a taste burst that suddenly becomes memorable because it connects with previous reference points and then takes things down a slightly different path, reinforcing the old reference point but also establishing a new one, a new taste memory. What a great job I have -- it never gets boring!!

So, enjoy Chef Jensen's delicious Merguez Lamb Sausage Pizza with Goat Cheese and Raitta!

 

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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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