Why Am I Obsessed with Pizza?
Note from Peter: I want to welcome our newest Guest Columnist, Scott Wiener, noted pizza-freak and founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in NYC, where he has taken over 37,000 fellow pizza-freaks to the finest pizzerias in New York City, both on foot and by bus. He has also written a terrific book, Viva la Pizza: The Art of the Pizza Box, in which he chronicles his Guinness World Record collection of pizza boxes from all over the world. Talk about pizza obsession — we may have found our poster boy, folks!! Scott will entertain and enlighten us once a month, beginning now with this most appropriate topic on our favorite subject, pizza obsession. We’d love to have your comments, below, and to also hear about your own pizza obsessions (and feel free to revisit the webisode located at the top of the Home Page, titled “Pizza as Obsession,” for our take on the subject).
Okay Scott, take it away….
The question I get asked most often is “Did you always love pizza?” My answer: NO.
When I was a kid, pizza was nothing more than an easy dinner solution on a busy night when Dad was getting home late from work and Mom was busy dealing with the kids. That’s not to say we didn’t look forward to stopping by one of the half dozen or so mom-and-pop pizzerias in my New Jersey hometown, but they were just places to get food and nothing more.
Pizza is like oxygen. We breathe every day for our entire lives and rarely give it a second thought. And why should we? Isn’t it just an element on the periodic table in 10th grade chemistry? Just like oxygen, good pizza seems more like a right than a privilege. Then one day, you’re dropped onto a planet without oxygen: college.
It’s not that the pizza in Central New York is all that bad. It wasn’t what I was used to and I’m not the only one who thought so. Each of my new friends held his or her hometown pizza in the highest regard. Of course we didn’t agree on the particulars. Some picked up a slice and folded; others ate it with a fork and knife. Some liked thin and crunchy crusts; others were accustomed to thicker pan pizzas. Some called them pies; others were baffled by the dessert term. But instead of tearing us apart, our differences prompted discussion and mutual education – all thanks to something each of us had been taking for granted.
As it turns out, air is only 21% oxygen. Obsession means digging into the remaining 79% just for fun. Pizza is loved by so many because it’s affordable, customizable, portable, and delicious. I crossed the 21% line over a decade ago when I started visiting the pizzerias my college friends bragged about. I took day trips to New Haven; I made my friends stop in Trenton on the way to Philly; I rode NJ Transit to New York Penn Station, got on the F train and huffed it out to Coney Island. These pilgrimages led me to places that were once the oxygen of their respective neighborhoods but had, in my eyes, transformed into holy temples.
Legends filled the room as we waited patiently for what the scriptures told us would be an eternity at DiFara. Hidden secrets revealed themselves from the initials scratched into wooden booths at John’s on Bleecker Street. A terrible game of telephone told us dummies at the end of the Grimaldi’s line that they’d run out of dough. But myths and legends only lasted long enough to inspire the important questions. What’s so special about coal ovens? Why is everybody talking about these tomatoes? How can one pizza be so different from the other if everybody uses essentially the same ingredients?
I found some answers in blogs, message boards, and magazines devoted to pizza, but every riddle I solved led to new questions. It was like peeling through the layers of an infinite onion. When I launched my pizza tour company in 2008, I finally had a legitimate excuse for investigating the nuances of this food that seemed like a new discovery. I started with books about pizza, like Peter Reinhart’s American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza and Ed Levine’s Pizza: A Slice of Heaven. Next I was reading books about dough, sauce, and cheese. Then I searched for deeper information about flour and tomatoes. I knew I had a problem when I spent too much hard-earned dough on a 1950s textbook about the history and technology of flour milling. Every step toward the horizon only proved that the Earth is indeed round and I’d never reach the edge. Nor did I want to. I enjoy the search too much.
That’s obsession. That’s why I love pizza.
Recent Articles by Scott Wiener
- Pizza Box of the Week #23: When Brooklyn is in Canada
- Pizza Box of the Week # 20: A Box Within a Box Within a Box
- Pizza Box of the Week #19: Is it a Book or is it a Box?
- Pizza Box of the Week #16: The Moped Motorino Box from France
- Pizza Box of the Week #15: The Ventit Box — and How to Re-Heat a Pizza
- Pizza Box of the Week with Scott Wiener, #14: Famous O’s, Karachi, Pakistan
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.
...and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com