Webisodes
Tony Gemignani, Webisode One
Peter Reinhart

I love North Beach, the legendary Little Italy of San Francisco, where the beatniks ruled during my youth, Carol Doda launched a whole new kind of soul baring, and some of the best Italian restaurants and espresso cafes have ruled for decades (and now lots of great Chinese and pretty much something from every ethnicity). It was especially fun to return just after local boy, Tony Gemignani, opened Tony's Pizza Napoletana in the shadow of the beautiful Sts. Peter and Paul Church (where, Tony points out in this webisode, not only was he married but also where, sixty some years earlier, Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe--North Beach has seen it all!!)

In this short, introductory webisode, Tony welcomes us and shows us the oven dedicated to making his World Championship Margherita pizza. In another section he begins making a Sicilian style pizza and gives us a quick briefing on San Marzano tomatoes, which he uses only on a few of the pizzas on his menu.

If you look closely you'll see a quick shot of Audrey Pagnotta Sherman, who we last saw in my July blog as the head pizzaiola at 900 Degrees in New York City. At the time of this filming, Audrey was a student at Tony's Pizza School and also his apprentice in training. In an upcoming video she tells us she eventually wants to open her own place in Boulder--bet she didn't have any idea she'd soon be opening in the Big Apple instead.

That's one of the best things about this Quest--we get to meet so many great people, some at the top of their game and some who will be the stars of the next generation. It can happen fast, but over the next few weeks we'll be getting to know Tony pretty well, and we're catching him as he's about to become one of the biggest superstars in the pizza world, having first mastered the entertainment side as the unbeatable Acrobatic Dough Spinning  champ, and now, the first non-Napoletano to win the World Margherita championship.

So, let's meet Tony and dive into his world--there's a lot more to come….

 
The Taco Temple Carrot Cake Wedge
Peter Reinhart

You are about to see a big ol' wedge of moist carroty goodness, the carrot cake from Morro Bay's Taco Temple, made by their pastry queen, Donelle Pollard. This is a short little dessert of a video, a fun, happy transition piece between our visit to California's Central Coast and our upcoming series in San Francisco with Tony Gemignani (which begins on September 1st). As I say on the video, my wife Susan's carrot cake is my personal benchmark and Adam Pollard, who we met in the Taco Temple webisode, feels the same way about his wife's version. What struck me was how different each of these carrot cakes actually are and how easy it is to love them both. Donelle's version is moist and dense, loaded with carrots that are still bright orange and al dente, proudly on display in two big layers surrounded by plenty of the requisite and delicious cream cheese frosting. Susan's version also has lots of frosting; the two versions of frosting are very similar -- let's face it, cream cheese frosting is one of the wonders of the world and is no need of innovation -- but Susan's cake is also is loaded with what I think is the true secret ingredient of carrot cake: raisins.

Regardless of the differences, what you will see on the tape is how hard it is stop eating good carrot cake. At first I had to wrap my mind around the fact that this one was so different from Susan's version but then, the more I tasted, and as the sweet flavor of the carrots began to shine, I fell under its charm. At the end I'm mumbling something in the van, still nursing that wedge and refusing to share it with anyone else. I can't even recall what it was I said because my mouth was so full of carrot cake and cream cheese that I could barely speak. And that, ironically, says it all.

 
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!

 

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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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