Note from Peter: We've been writing about this new Baking Steel for a couple of months, so I asked its creator, Andris Lagsdin, to tell us more about it in his own words. I love his inspirational story, one that exemplifies what Pizza Quest is all about, and am thrilled to be able to share it with you now. Enjoy!
Although for my day job, I work for a family-owned manufacturing company, Stoughton Steel, outside the office I'm pretty passionate about food -- pizza in particular. I've been making pizza's since I started with Todd English at Figs in the early 90's. It's been a pretty casual obsession of mine over the years, making pies mostly for my family and hosting pizza parties for my friends. I used to make my pizza's on the back of a metal sheet tray, then switched to a stone for what I thought would help make a better crust. I brought the steel into the picture just this past year, after reading excerpts of Modernist Cuisine in a Wall Street Journal article. Steel and pizza -- are you kidding me? Of course I was intrigued by the idea. Having more than 15 years experience working in the steel industry and also a strong culinary background, I had been looking for a way to marry the two for quite a long while. And so my journey began.
The WSJ article stated that the best way to replicate brick oven pizza at home was with a steel plate, so I decided to give it a go. I found an extra piece of steel in my shop and cleaned it up to take home. I have to admit that the first steel was a bit of a monstrosity and my wife looked at me like I had two heads when I told her what I planned to do with it. She insisted she wouldn't subject herself or our two kids to anything I made off of that "hunk of steel." Well I went for it anyway, made a batch of dough and baked up the pies. We all marveled at the browning of the crust. There were no leftovers that night. I knew then that I was on to something.
After a couple of months of fine-tuning, we decided we were ready to see how other people felt about baking pizza on steel. Being that our customer base was the construction industry, we needed a
platform that would allow us to get this baby seen by the masses. That platform was Kickstarter. A crowd-funding super source, Kickstarter allowed "backers" to make micro-investments in our Baking Steel project, enabling us to launch our first production run. I was pretty nervous going in. I knew that my pizza making had improved tenfold with the Baking Steel, but would it be loved by the masses? We had a modest goal of raising $3,000 and, to my amazement, within 24-hours we had hit our funding goal. I was blown away! I didn't think it could get much better but, in fact, it did.
About halfway through our campaign, Adam Kuban mentioned our Kickstarter campaign to his readers on www.slice.seriouseats.com. These Slice contributors and readers really LOVE pizza and, boy, do they know their stuff! One of Adam's colleagues', Kenji Lopez-Alt, emailed me a couple of days later asking if he could get one for his Pizza Lab at Slice. I didn't know Kenji at the time, but I am so glad I sent him a steel. He put the Baking Steel through some pretty rigorous testing. I don't think I slept much while I was waiting to hear his feedback. But after a few days, he emailed me back and said, "You've made a believer out of me. The steel blows away my stone for both NY and Neopolitan style pies!"
Hallelujah!! Kenji made mention of his testing the next day on Slice.com (his full review was due out September 11 - our campaign would end September 2). He said, "The Baking Steel worked stunningly well." In nearly every test and by every measure it surpassed his well-loved stone, providing crisp crusts and wonderful spotting in record times. Our campaign went through the roof -- literally! In fact, when all was said and done, we had surpassed our initial goal by 1,200%!
So now we had to work to do, to the tune of producing 500+ steels for our first run. We worked around the clock filling these order for our initial backers. And by the end of October -- mission accomplished! But, now that we had Kickstarter under our belt, did we have what it would take to make it on our own?
Fast forward to current day and thankfully, the Baking Steel is still going strong. I had the opportunity to meet some really great pizza people throughout this journey and have learned so much! We've established a new online presence with the launch of Bakingsteel.com. I have reconnected with some old friends from the culinary world. I’ve had some incredible surprises, especially when Peter Reinhart contacted me at the office one evening to talk about our new product!
This journey has been a whirlwind for me in many perspectives. I’ve told this story literally hundreds of times and surely the stars have all lined up for me. But what is not said are the countless failures it has taken me to get this one single idea right. I’ve got an amazing family and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me bring the Baking Steel to life. I made a decision a year and a half ago to chase something I am very passionate about. The day I launched the Baking Steel on Kickstarter I prepared myself for a goose egg –- no backers or supporters. But I was pleasantly surprised and I’m so proud that I put my idea out there. I finally decided to listen to that little voice inside and follow my passion, and I'm so happy I did!