Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of them all…
Gennaro Lombardi, Frank Pepe, John Sasso (Johns Pizza in NYC), Totonno Pero…legendary pizza makers who have created a lasting impact on the craft.
Wouldn’t you love to be able to travel back in time and experience pizza from the hands of the true masters? Surely they were the greatest pizza makers in history right? Nah, nope, no way, not even close. Wait, before you start writing that poison pen letter, let me start by saying that indeed each of these men has had an incredible impact on our sub culture. In truth the coal fired pizza at Totonno’s would probably be my death bed meal of choice. But let’s be honest, casting aside the myths, today, right now, giants walk amongst us.
The depth of knowledge, talent, commitment, skill and generosity of today’s pizza makers is unprecedented. In fact today’s dedicated amateurs often have more knowledge than the accomplished pros of just a few decades ago. Folk’s we are living in the Golden Age of Pizza.
Let’s just look at dough for example. In the old days most pizza dough was made using any flour that was cheap and available. Ingredients were portioned by volume or by eye. Mix time? Hah! You turned on the mixer and turned it off when you got back to it. Temperature? It’s hot today let’s add some ice. Extended fermentation, pre-ferment, autolyse in fact all of the many techniques that have crossed over from the artisan bread baking world were simply not part of the pizza maker’s repertoire. Pizza dough was primarily direct method, quick ferment and then use as needed, ready or not.
Training was pretty much “do what I do,” reinforced with an occasional knock on the head from a pizza peel. We learned by rote, it was all about how with little or no explanation of why.
In spite of the lack of depth the small amount of knowledge that was available was veiled in secrecy. Every pizza maker had a closely guarded secret even though they were all doing essentially the same thing. The idea of exchanging information or actually helping another pizza maker, including co-workers was unheard of. Trade shows such as The International Pizza Expo would have been scorned.
On top of all this, the truth is that most of the great pizza makers of the old days were one-trick ponies. They were very good at making the one type of pizza that they knew how to make but versatility was not their strong suit.
Compare this with today’s “rock star” pizza makers which, in the US has to start with Tony Gemignani.
Tony excels in virtually every style, oversees a business empire, runs one of the best pizza schools in the world and has written the definitive how-to book about pizza ‘The Pizza Bible.” On top of that he has created a legacy of amazing pizza makers, including Laura Meyer, who are leading the next generation of pizza artisans in America.
and Giulio Adriani,
are pizza maestro’s who travel the world sharing their knowledge and continue to learn and grow. With decades of experience they are still innovating and elevating our craft. Paulie Gee has given hope to dreamers everywhere when he reinvented himself and parlayed his backyard pizza passion into a nationally recognized destination pizzeria in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.
And then there is Chris Bianco, the humble philosopher of pizza.
Chris has quietly set the bar and inspired pizza makers everywhere. Chris was farm to table before farm to table was cool. He established relationships with like-minded farmers and food suppliers to create pizzas that clearly demonstrate his artistry. His pizzas draw inspiration from his surroundings and are a true expression of his world view and life experiences. If you want to know, Chris eat his pizza. The whole story is right there on the plate. This is pizza making on a completely different level.
So, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of them all?” Perhaps the quest itself is more important than any subjective answer could ever be. Each of us owes it those who came before and those who will come after to continue learning and contributing. I firmly believe that the very best pizzas being made today are unsurpassed in quality, flavor and craftsmanship. Wisdom comes from old knowledge, but improvement comes from new knowledge.
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Pizza Quest Info
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.
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Great article! It’s interesting how we tend to yearn for the past sometimes making it more than it was when it was the present. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to experience the present recognizing in the moment that it is yearn-worthy!