A Championship Margherita by Tony Gemignani, part 2
Peter Reinhart

I was mistaken last week when I said the Margherita that Tony made was his World Championship version. Actually, this week is the version that won it all. As it turns out, last week's pizza was made with Caputo flour and this week's is made with San Felice flour. When Tony won the World Championship in Naples, which he'll talk about a little in this week's segment, he used the San Felice flour so that's the one he reserves this flour for at his restaurant. He uses Caputo on all his other Napoletana pizzas and, as he indicates here, it's almost impossible to tell them apart and he loves both brands. But, because he won the title with the San Felice, that's the one you get if you order the Championship pie, served on the special pedestal platter. Tony told us that he tries to replicate the Margherita exactly as he did it for the judges, and he only makes 73 each day and when the dough runs out he stops taking orders for it. The number has special meaning for him but now I can't recall what it signifies so be sure to ask when you eat there.

Another surprise for all of us (and even for one of the judges, it so happens) is that the traditional competition Margherita is not required to be made with Mozzarella di Bufala but should actually be made with Fior di Latte (cow's milk mozzarella). Now we know. Hey, you'll learn all sorts of new things from hanging out with the Masters, which is why we go on these crazy quests. So sit back and enjoy or, as the saying goes, watch and learn....

 

 
Hens, Mussels, Devils, and Ears
Brad English

New York.

I grew up in New Jersey.  New York was the big beast that my dad went off to on a hot -- or cold -- bus for the day, depending on the time of year.  Unfortunately, the bus wasn't cold in the summer and it wasn't hot in the winter  the way you would like it to be (as he tells it).  Either way, it was a long trek from our small coastal town on the Jersey Shore to the big city.  

The Jersey Shore was an ideal place to be growing up in America in the 1970's.  I was free to ride my bike to school, walk all over town, and play hide and seek on the roofs of the empty summer homes that were only inhabited 3-4 months a year.

While visiting back here, I think about the freedom I had compared to my own kids, now growing up on the west coast in Southern California in a different time and place altogether.  We rode our bikes everywhere.  Now, my kids ride bikes, but I take them to the beach, or the park to do so.  Things sure are different.   

I have been working back here in NYC and staying with some friends and family, commuting into the city and passing many landmarks that bring back all sorts of memories.  There's the railroad bridge that crosses Sea Girt Lake, where I remember playing endlessly on these very railroad tracks, on the bridge, and under the bridge.  We would lay pennies on the tracks, throw rocks into the lake, try to set crab traps, build rock walkways, fish, build forts, etc.  As I roll over the same bridge now, in my adulthood, I remembered as clear as if I were that ten year old boy lowering a fishing pole, or laying a crab trap down from between the railroad tracks into the water.  My friend Richard and I once were startled when the sound of a train horn came bearing down on us.  You never saw two kids drop what they were doing so fast and escape to the "safety" of the rocky slope just off the edge of the bridge.  Our trap had fallen into the water -- gone.  As we settled into our safe position, panting, we peered down the tracks awaiting the rushing train, and watched as a fire truck rolled across the railroad tracks and continued down the road.  No train.  No dramatic swooshing rumbling rush. What a let down! And now, we didn't have our crab trap.  I wonder what we would have done with any crab if we had even caught one? (End of memory riff...)

Now I'm back in New York.  What a great city.  I can hardly process it all.  Imagine what we could do here on a Pizza Quest?!  We could literally set up shop and start questing and likely never leave this town.  The pizza is spectacular.  The food is amazing.  The variety and flow of it all is breathtaking.  To refer back to an article I wrote recently, I guess I can't help but to keep my eyes out for those "chalkboard" signs that will lead me to something new, amazing, or different.  There are so many here, literally, on every corner.

One of my favorite new joints in New York has to be The Spotted Pig.  I was meeting a friend for dinner and got there a little early to be seated, but the downstairs bar was full.  So, I wandered upstairs and found a couple of seats at the bar. I ordered my first Old Speckled Hen and asked for a menu while I waited for my friend to show up.  The bartender said, "As soon as I get it, it's yours!"  He was waiting for the daily printing of the menu.  This is evidence of part of the magic of this place.  I've been here multiple times during my trips to NY.  The menu is always changing.  I love that they are literally waiting for the final menu as they are already opening service for dinner. 

Everything on the menu is familiar, comforting, but also challenging and slightly different.  The dishes are simple, but explosive with flavor.  I sent a text to a friend (Dave Wilson - who has shot most of our videos on Pizza Quest and is a fellow foodie), who I knew would be thoroughly jealous that I was here.  He shot a text back saying, "Get the Deviled Egg, the Mussels, and the Crispy Pigs Ear!"  I snapped a photo of my Old Speckled Hen, knowing this back-lit glistening beer would really set him over the top, and sent that off.  Just then, I got another text, "I was just going to tell you to have an Old Speckled Hen for me!" 

My friend Steve got there and by now there was no way I was leaving this bar stool -- no need to get a table.  There's something about this place that makes me really feel at home.  It's more like having a beer and some great food in your friend's basement bar, than being out at a restaurant.  The only caveat to that is that there is one MAD Chef in this kitchen pushing the experience beyond sustenance and into the realm of experiential and memorable. 

So, in Dave's honor, having never had a fried crispy pig's ear in my life, I decided that if it was on this menu it was not only going to be good, but great.  My friend looked on in horror as I continued my order. I added the Steamed Mussels with Prosciutto, Cava and Samphire.  The pig's ear was accompanied by a small endive salad with a lemon caper dressing.  Now Steve felt pressured; he's not the most adventurous eater.  So, he took a leap and ordered the Char Grilled Burger with Roquefort and Shoestrings!  I've had it before -- it's really good.  We shared the Deviled Egg appetizer followed by another round of Hens and, as a follow up, because we didn't get enough Deviled Egg the first round, we went for round two. 

This isn't a review of the food, or this restaurant.  I am just sharing the experience as a way to further explore our journey here on Pizza Quest.  We are intrigued by the passion it takes to bring memorable food to the table.  Our focus is on pizza, but the elements are similar across the board.  It requires a balance of passion, dedication, taste, vision, with perhaps a dash of insanity. 

As I write this, I can sort back through my visits here and recall the welcoming feeling and satisfaction I have experienced every time I come here.  This sometimes comes accompanied by great food.  It can also come from experiencing great food with great people.  Or, perhaps we can have fond memories because of the place, or the timing, or so many other aspects that add value or meaning to our lives.   But, in far fewer circumstances, you will find all or many of these aspects of enjoyment coming together at once.  For me, I found the spot -- or, should I say I found the Spotted Pig?!

 
Teresa's Dessert Pizza
Teresa Greenway

Lately I have been thinking a lot about  some ways to enjoy dessert pizzas that you could get excited about and have your family and friends talking about too.

I thought maybe a cheesecake base with fresh fruit on top would be a satisfying, delicious ending to a pizza party, picnic or camp out. This pizza is great tasting while it’s still hot, cooled down or even cold from the fridge.  I experimented with different ways to bake the pizza and work the toppings to the best advantage of eye appeal and taste.


With the first pizza, I par-baked the crust (I always use a sourdough crust but you could, theoretically, use any favorite crust) and then spread the cheesecake topping on, sprinkled on the fruit (fresh blueberries), then returned the pizza to the oven to finish baking.

The pizza tasted great and looked good too. However the crust edge on a par-baked pizza tends to be thick because the par-baking will cause the dough to puff up in the middle and spread the dough outwards towards the edge. I like a bubbly edge to my pizza.

So for the second pizza I spread the uncooked dough with the cheesecake topping, sprinkled on the fresh fruit and baked the pizza for seven minutes at 550F degrees. The pizza had a nice bubbly edge a, really nice crust and tasted great. However, the fruit (the strawberries) looked a little “baked,” so the eye appeal suffered somewhat. Baking fresh fruit can cause it to look watery. This problem could be solved by choosing fruit that looks good baked at a high temperature (like the blueberries) or fruits that are already prepared, like sliced dried fruit, drained sliced peaches which were packed in juice, prepared apple pie filling etc. The peaches and apples would taste great sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon. I also think that a dessert pizza with a raspberry filling, chopped nuts and a crumb topping would be nice. Or maybe chopped apples, nuts, and figs drizzled with honey would bake up well. I have also been thinking of a pear/pecan pizza with a cinnamon crumb topping. The ideas are apparently endless. I would like to hear some of your ideas… Instead of dessert, some of these ideas would work for a breakfast treat as well.

On the third pizza, I baked with only the cheesecake filling and placed the fresh fruit on top right after removing the pizza from the oven , while the filling was still hot. The eye appeal on this pizza was just right. However, the fruit liked rolling off of the sliced pizza. I think if you were using a prepared filling, like a cherry pie, apple pie, or glazed fruit filling, you wouldn’t have the problem of the fruit rolling off and have a really great looking pizza.  The cheesecake filling tends to get a bit browner if you do not watch the baking time closely with this option.

 

On my next dessert pizza, I think I will go with the second baking method, bake the pizza with the filling and fruit and use blueberries or a prepared fruit topping. That would be my choice mainly because I liked the crust with that option and I love blueberries.

Now I find myself wondering about a lemon meringue pizza….. ?

To find the complete recipe for Berry Cheesecake Dessert Pizza visit: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/discover/?p=2321

Enjoy!


 
Peter's Blog, Sept. 13, 2011
Peter Reinhart

Thanks to our intrepid producer, Brad English, we're about to get a sneak peek at the Challenge Beer created by our friends at The Bruery. Brad only got to taste the unfermented wort, as the finished beer won't be ready till it's unveiled at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) on Sept. 30th. We'll all be there, making the Challenge Pizza created by Kelly Whitaker and Alan Henin of Pizzeria Basta with a crust created by me and the Pizza Quest team, and drinking the new, finished beer.  Can't wait to find out what they call it.

Meanwhile, as those of you who have been following these blogs know, I've been captivated by the use of beer malts in the dough -- we'll be using a light malt crystal in the Challenge Pizza but our friend Nick Birkby, in South Africa, is playing with all sorts of colors and intensities and plans to write a special guest column for us to share his findings. We'd love to hear from others, as well, if you've done any of this kind of experimentation with malts. Write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and maybe we can get your thoughts out to all of our followers.

So, let's get to the beer. Here is Brad's report after his trip to The Bruery for the first taste. In the coffee world they call this stage a "cupping" so I wonder if they call it a "mugging" in the beer world. If so, Brad got "mugged" and here he is to tell us all about it:

 

A Biere De Garde is born…

Biere de Garde translated means "beer that has been kept or lagered", or, "a beer for keeping."  It is a style of beer similar to a Saison, or the Farmhouse Ales of Northern France and French speaking Belgium. These beers were brewed in the winter months to take advantage of the cool weather, but brewed to be enjoyed throughout the year, which means they needed to be flavorful, but refreshing enough for the summer months. They are characterized by their malt flavors, with varying colors based on the malts added: Blond, Brune (Brown), and Ambree (Amber). They are less hoppy and show fruity, earthy or rustic cellar-like flavors.  Yes, I becoming a beer wonk!

Interestingly, I was originally drawn to The Bruery through one of their Saisons that Kelly had on tap at Pizzeria Basta last fall, a farmhouse ale with many of the characteristics as described above. And now, as time has passed, we have created a pizza, and The Bruery has created a beer in the style of a Biere de Garde. Can I call it a Biere de Pizza?

I went down to The Bruery to meet with Patrick, Ben, and Tyler a few weeks ago because they were about to start brewing the final full batch of the Pizza Challenge beer. I hadn't heard what the beer would be, but knew I would get to taste the test brew and see them get started brewing the final beer. When I arrived I sat with Ben for a while at the bar while we waited for Patrick to arrive. There were a few ingredients sitting there waiting to go into the brew: a few bags of Dried Lemon Peel, Fennel Seeds, and even a case of Zucchini. I could see right away what Patrick and the brewers were up to.

Our Challenge Pizza was made with a beer dough in which Peter included some whole rye flour and malt crystal to play up this beer connection. Then Kelly Whitaker and Alan Henkin pulled some wildly fresh ingredients together including: fresh burrata, squash blossoms, white sardines, fresh arugula sprouts and flours, preserved lemon, and a sprinkling of fennel salt along the crust edge.

We had made another pizza, with a red sauce and cured pork jowl (guanciale).  But, when we presented the two, I could see that Kelly was hoping that Patrick would choose this one because he wanted to challenge Patrick. And, I noticed that Patrick could see what Kelly was up to, and without words, their two grins connected and Patrick took that challenge. He was now answering it by bringing in some of those same flavors that Peter's malty dough and Kelly's eclectic mix of fresh ingredients brought, to pair with his beer.

Patrick poured some of the non-carbonated test brew for us. It was a rich amber color, with an almost orange glow to it. It was slightly hazy and you could instantly smell the malty, earthy, and fruity aromas. I had a grin from ear to ear. I didn't brew this, or design it, but with a few ideas, some conversations and lots of emails and phone calls, I was standing in one of America's most unique craft breweries and I had a glass of beer that I was a part of. You can't imagine how good that felt and how good that pre-beer tasted to me.

Patrick and Tyler were interested in this test brew for it's flavors; how they would work when finished, what they wanted to add or change. I was interested in this beer and what it was saying to me right then. It wasn't finished, the carbonation was still to come; it was warm, probably cellar temperature, but that allowed those flavors to be at their fullest.

It's been an interesting quest for me. I know Peter will expand more on the connections between bread and beer on the technical side, but I feel there has been a permanent connection made in my brain on an experiential level. I now seem to sense a deep similarity in the aromas and experiences I am having with good beer and good bread, or pizza dough, since this challenge began. Kelly mentioned that drinking a beer in the brewery where it was made is something special. I will add to that and say that drinking a beer and eating a pizza in the brewery where both were made is spectacular! I swear I can smell and taste the yeasty, malty sweetness if I just close my eyes and think about all of this.

I'm looking forward to the final pairing which is coming up in only a few short weeks. We will definitely, keep you posted!
Brad

Thanks Brad--I'm loving how your world has been rocked, and thanks also for setting up this whole challenge. Next week I'll post the recipe for the pizza dough and we'll talk more about the toppings on the Challenge Pizza. We're only two weeks from the big weekend and it's getting exciting for all of us.

 
Tony Gemignani Makes His Championship Pizza
Peter Reinhart

In this webisode, Tony teaches me (and you) how he makes the Margherita pizza that won him the world championship. You'll notice a few great tips, things that aren't commonly known even by professional pizza makers, such as: the traditional Napoletana way to load the pizza onto the peel; shaping the dough on the marble slab as opposed to lifting or spinning it; when to put the basil on; and the importance of bringing the dough to room temperature before putting it into the oven to prevent burning the underside.

Catch the quote on the back of Tony's tee-shirt, "Respect the craftsman."  That's become his mantra as he's transitioned from being an American pizza whizz-kid, winning innumerable competitions for his acrobatic prowess to, now, mastering and teaching the time-honored, traditional methodology that he learned from his own master teachers when he studied with them in Naples and the surrounding area.

You'll also briefly see Tony's own apprentice, Audrey Pagnotta Sherman, working in the background. We'll visit more with her in a subsequent webisode; she was recently seen in New York City at 900 Degrees, but I have just been informed by Tony that he and his team, including Audrey, have parted ways with that restaurant and will be focusing on a new place in Brooklyn. If anyone has more details than that, especially about how 900 Degrees is doing without Tony and team, please let us know.

As many of you already know, one of the major themes of Pizza Quest is the celebration of artisans and artisanship (or, as Tony says on his shirt, "Respect the craftsman"). I derive particular joy whenever I see a next generation apprentice, such as Audrey, immersed in his or her training. It gives me hope that the ongoing transmission of knowledge is still alive and well, and that future generations, today's kids and their own kids, will be able to continue enjoying the gifts created by these dedicated artisans. You'll see this message coming through and reiterated by Tony throughout this segment and in the ones to come. Enjoy!

 
A Brick Wood/Gas Grill Oven Project
Brad English

I am not the first to venture into how to bring fire and wood together to cook a pizza.  So, while making great pizza is all about balancing time, temperature and ingredients, it is also about the type of heat to a great extent. You can bake a pizza with a brick floor (brick oven), cook it in a live fired wood burning oven, which brings smoke and a more intense heat into the picture, you can cook it in your home oven on a pizza stone at lower - slower temperatures, or even cook a great pizza on your grill.  The possibilities may be endless.  The important thing is to balance time and temperature (heat!) with your ingredients and you can make great pizza.

I stumbled on adding fire to my home pizza making experience when I decided to grill a pizza.  I had added a wood smoker box into my gas grill and it seemed to cut the cooking time by almost 40%.  My home oven pizzas generally take between 8-10 minutes to bake.  This one baked in 6 minutes!  It also had fire, wood, and smoke added into the equation.  Of course, I do intend to get

 
Peter's Blog, Sept. 6th
Peter Reinhart

Hi Everyone,

It was a long, wet, windy Labor Day Weekend down here in Charlotte, so I'm a little behind with my posts (we're still technically under a tornado watch). Didn't even get to post a Coming Attractions box so I'll do that here at the end of this post. I'm going to take a little breather from the recent pizza/beer reflections and just write a short blog this week.

Today was the first day of classes at Johnson & Wales University and we welcomed about 900 new freshman yesterday (Labor Day) in our annual Convocation ceremony -- doing this on Labor Day is one of our traditions. As the faculty processed down the aisle to our seats, I watched the faces of all the newbies and imagined how all of their lives were about to change; that they themselves were about to change, transformed actually (transformation is something we write about here a lot on Pizza Quest). I know about this growth phenomenon from years of observation and, lest I had any doubts, I saw it in action on the night before the ceremony when I watched a new TV special on The Cooking Channel (not the Food Network, but their new sister network) called Cooking School Confidential. If you can get this channel please, don't miss this show (it's channel 353 on my digital dial, so I imagine many of you won't be able to get it or see this show until they rerun it on The Food Network someday) .

Yes, it's a great plug for our campus (BTW, I'm not in it, though there's a quick shot of me during the graduation scene but it's faster than a blink), as the show follows four Johnson & Wales University -- JWU for short -- students as they pursue their dream to become successful chefs. Each student has a very different situation to navigate through: one is a professional cyclist who

 
A Sommelier's Reflections on the Beer/Food Connection
Peter Reinhart

Note from Peter: Alan Henkin is a partner at Pizzeria Basta and is also the restaurant's beverage director. We were so impressed with his knowledge of both wine and beer, and his thoughtful list, that we filmed some special webisode segments with him, which we will show in the future when we run the Bruery Beer and Pizza Challenge series. But, as the time draws near for the Great American Beer Festival and the unveiling of both the Challenge Beer and the Pizza Quest/Basta pizza, we asked Alan to share some thoughts about the creative process he goes through in pairing food with beer. This is the first of what we hope will be more Guest Columns from him. Enjoy!

 

As a Sommelier, I have always been trained to use deductive reasoning when tasting wine, especially when blind tasting.  By eliminating as many options as possible, you can sometimes identify the origin and make-up of a wine.  For me, great beer is not as cerebral and feels more emotional and nostalgic...more like food.  After all, beer is not capable nor is it trying to express the terroir of where the malts and hops are grown.  This is not to say that beer can’t be linked to certain regions and producers through educated deduction, it is just not as specific.  That being said, I now believe that great beer making more resembles the work I see happening in great kitchens, right down to the way both chefs and brewers organize their pantry and clean their equipment at the end of a shift.  I see the same passion in the eyes of great brewers as I do in great chefs, and their ability to excite and inspire their staff is as important as any classic technique or encyclopedic knowledge of product.  

There are many great brewers in America right now who have this passion and that is why there is so much great beer to choose from.  At Pizzeria Basta we have only four beer taps and about eight bottles on our list, but we put a lot thought into each selection.  Sometimes it can be hard to decide what to serve and, other times, certain beers are so highly allocated that you can’t get them even if you want them.  This is all part of the process and choosing great beer to accompany our food is fun.  One brewery that we have focused on since we opened is The Bruery, located in Orange County, CA.   This relationship started as soon as we opened the doors of our restaurant.  We knew we wanted to offer at least one large format, 750ml bottle of American craft beer, but there were so many to choose from that we were not sure where to start.  We wanted something different than what other restaurants in Boulder were serving, and we wanted something new and fresh; something with balance that would go well with Chef Kelly Whitaker’s wood-fired cuisine. 

The Bruery fit this mold perfectly.  A young brewery, about 2 years old at the time we opened Basta, that only produces bottle conditioned, unfiltered, large format beers.  After sampling a few of their bottles I was instantly impressed.  The beers were impeccably made so that you could taste the craft behind the product.  On the nose they displayed a beautiful malt-driven sweetness with an underlying yeast component.  Even though most of their ales were over 8% abv, you could barely tell, and they wore their alchohol content like a suede jacket.  The hops were there, but were used in a way as to not dominate the rest of the beer.  In other words, the ales were perfectly balanced and tasted like they had been made by people who love the craft of brewing. This was the kind of beer I wanted to drink, and the kind of beer I wanted to serve to our guests.  We eventually devoted an entire tap handle to The Bruery and have served a large portion of their portfolio.  The similarities between their company and ours would later become very apparent to me when we visited them,  as you will read in some of the other posts by Peter and Brad on Pizza Quest. I hope to write more about that in future Guest Columns.

Alan Henkin, Boulder, CO

 

 

 
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….

 
Tony's Pizza Napoletana Gallery
Brad English

We're going to be visiting with Tony Gemignani at Tony's Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco over the coming weeks.  As I was building this Photo Gallery I thought back to when we first arrived and met Tony.  We were walking around with him as our crew was setting up while he showed us around his new pizzeria.  He took us in to see the wood fired oven that he brought in from Italy;  he explained to us about temperature, wood, time,  and the importance of using the right ingredients.  We then went into the back kitchen, where he showed us three more ovens that he had -- each one for a different and specific style of pizza.

I thought to myself, "Who would go through the effort to have four different styles of pizza ovens?"  Well, as you will see, Tony would.  You will also see that he is that way about everything he does, giving equal attention to the big details as well as the small ones.  There are certain ways he recommends that you stack your flour; he takes care to pick the right products, know the growers, and keep focused on the traditions of his craft.  I realized that Pizza Quest had just entered into the world of Tony's Quest, our journeys had converged, and we had a great time as Tony generously let us peer into his world.

Tony grew up in the Bay area -- it's his home turf and, so, he took us outside of the pizzeria a couple of times. One of those trips was to cross over the Golden Gate Bridge, just to talk about life, pizza, and to look back with fondness over his city.  He also arranged to take us out to the farmlands of his main California tomato producer, Stanislaus Tomatoes, where we met with Steve Rouse, the Stanislaus marketing director. We got some great footage there. 

I'm sure you will enjoy our visit into Tony's world as much as we did and we thank him for letting us in. Please enjoy the gallery and the coming webisodes.

 
Peter's Blog, August 30th, 2011
Peter Reinhart

I'll be writing a few words, below, about beer and dough but first, let's return to Brad English's ongoing story about the evolution of the collaboration between Pizzeria Basta, The Bruery, and Pizza Quest. When we left him last week, Brad was telling us all about his tour of The Bruery and what happened when he issued the "challenge."  Let's pick it up from there....

A Pizza Pairing - Part III
So, we're on a Pizza Quest, looking for the best of the best, the true artisans of the craft.  Along the way, we've followed a trail that leads us to a better understanding of what artisanship is.  At this very moment we are currently awaiting the craft brewed response  -- the beer itself -- to a Challenge Pizza that we created for Patrick Rue and his brewers at The Bruery.  After tasting our pizza, Patrick and his brewing staff set to work to create a never before made beer to be paired specifically with the flavor profiles created by Kelly Whitaker, Alan Henkin, and Peter Reinhart on the Challenge Pizza.  I think this project is the perfect example of what hand-crafted, artisan brewing is all about.  The process of bringing food and beverage together to form a more perfect taste experience is not a new one.  But, what has me most excited is all the time and energy that went into creating a custom brewed beer specifically to match up with a pizza -- this may be a first!  There is art going on here, along with a passion for the brewing process, and a deep understanding of both flavor and taste. 

This is what I had picked up from Kelly Whitaker when we talked in detail about The Bruery:  They are not just brewing beer; they are brewing flavors that go with friends, food, a dinner party, a night in a local pub, cheese, salted pork, the Super Bowl, the sunset, and - of course - PIZZA!  Their beers -- and I've tried quite a few now -- all have something else to say beyond the obvious: that this beer tastes good.  The brews are well thought out, a combinations of flavors.  Perhaps the liquid, the beer, can be considered a flavor delivery system in much the same way Peter has always referred to how a good dough, or pizza crust, is.  Yes, a flavor delivery system!

We re-visited The Bruery recently.  This time we brought a mobile wood fired oven along, courtesy of Tim Gonzalez and his TJ's Wood-Fire Pizza rig, and got to "work" (if you could call it that) exploring the brewery, making pizzas, tasting beers, talking theory, and generally having a pretty

 
Pizzeria Bianco and Big Brother
Brad English

Note from Brad: Ever since reading Peter's "American Pie:  My Search for the Perfect Pizza" I have been trying to get myself to Phoenix, Arizona to experience what Chris Bianco is capable of doing with our favorite food -- pizza!  I have to admit, this may have become more and more of an obsession as we developed Pizza Quest.  I will also admit that my obsession may have, just a little bit, turned toward a somewhat consistent nudging of my sister to go there on one of her many trips to Phoenix to visit her in-laws over the last few years.  Maybe.  Who wouldn't slightly nudge in this case?

The good news is that even though I haven't made it there myself yet, my sister finally listened to me!  You know how little sisters can be.  I had almost forgotten my requests when one day I got a text photo of Pizzeria Bianco.  She was there!  When she got home, she sent me an email and some more photos from her trip and I knew we had to share her story with you.  BTW, the photos are hers, but the captions are mine!

Enjoy and please send us more stories of your own adventures.


Pizzeria Bianco and Big Brother

For at least 5 years now I have visited the in-laws in Scottsdale Arizona, each time being pressed by my beloved, pizza fanatic brother Brad, co-founder of Pizza Quest, to go to this one pizzeria.  It was an amusing process, sometimes receiving several calls from him on my vacations to see if we were thinking of going, and then to push an itinerary if I said yes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a pizza lover and always go for a good recommend, but Bianco’s was only open for dinner and the wait was two plus hours long.  So, when it came to the end of a long desert day, we always seemed to settle on local food that we could spend less time acquiring.

After all of these visits to Arizona I must admit that I started to antagonize my big brother by

 
Pizza Balsamico
Brad English

It's still summertime and, in Redondo Beach, CA, we are having one of the best summers I can remember.  We very typically have a marine layer of fog that covers our beaches for most of the day until it finally burns off after the relentless sun does it's job better than the Pacific is doing it's job of sending the fog our way.  But not this summer.  It has been sunny, sunny, sunny!  And, on top of all that sun, we have been blessed with a consistently cool ocean breeze, which has made things warm but not hot.  To further make this a great Southern California summer, our nights have been warm also.  I have hardly had to do the "layer off" routine and then, in the evening, put a layer (sweatshirt) back on.  Paradise! 

So, big deal you may be saying.  What's with all the talk of summer?  Let's get to the pizza.  We will.  But I'm on a roll here.  I've been having a ball making some fresh pizzas and enjoying sitting around outside and gobbling them up lately.  On a few long Saturday afternoons I've been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and making some delicious pizza pies with the wonderful ingredients that are readily available at so many good grocery stores. 

Now, with this pizza, I wanted to focus on the final touch - the drizzle -- which is a delicious balsamic vinegar that a friend gave to me from a shop up in the Central Coast of California Wine Country.  The pizza I made was delicious in and of itself, don't get me wrong.  I used some Bel Gioioso Burrata, fresh sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, a little sausage, and chopped fresh basil leaves in a base of Peter's herb oil.  But, the kicker was how

 
Peter's Blog, Aug. 23rd, Beer and Pizza, Part Two
Peter Reinhart

Last week we gave you some back ground on the upcoming series we are still filming that pairs pizza and beer in a whole new way. I also wrote a bit about the parallels between beer and pizza, especially in terms of fermentation, so I don't want to repeat all that here (you can read it all in last week's Peter's Blog). So, let's jump back into Brad's story, the back story, that fills in the lead-up to this series. When we left Brad, he had decided to contact The Bruery, which we learned about from Chef Kelly Whitaker during our film session at Pizzeria Basta in Boulder. After Brad heard back from Ben Weiss, the VP of Marketing, things began to move forward. Here's Brad, as we pick up the story:

What goes better with pizza than a cold beer?  I feel like we're in the "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" territory here.  If there was ever a pairing, this is it.

Jeff Michael (our Pizza Quest co-creator) and I finally found a time when we could make the trip down to visit Ben at The Bruery.  It is a relatively small facility, ramping up to put out about 5,000 barrels of beer a year (after 3 years in business).  Right away, I knew I'd like the people here. Ben greeted us in his office wearing a pair of jeans, a faded graphic t-shirt, and flip flops.  I immediately thought that Ben was fortunate to be able to work at a place like this, and that the owners must also be the kind of guys you'd like to hang out with.  Sometimes you can just sense the soul of a place.  The Bruery has good soul and, as I already knew, put a good amount of that soul into creating some amazing beers.

As Ben gave us a tour of the brewery he told us how much all of the brewers and staff love good food and, definitely, good pizza. In fact, I found most of our conversation was about food.  We discussed pizza, the various gourmet food trucks they schedule on a regular basis, and the local great restaurants.  We eventually made it over to their brewery's bar, where Ben pulled a few

 
Making Pizza for our Guru, by Cary Steiner
Peter Reinhart

Note from Peter: Cary and Lillian Steiner are friends of mine from New York who have their own wonderful pizza blog called Passion-4-Pizza (you can link to their site through our Sites We Like section). In fact, the photo of me used on all my postings was taken by Cary when he and  Lillian brought me to Umberto's in New Hyde Park to experience my first "Grandma's Pizza." It was there that I learned not only of their pizza journey but also of their spiritual journey and of their Teacher, Guru Shri Anandi Ma. The following is a memoir of Cary's experience making pizza for their Teacher. For those who have ever tried to cook for someone important in their life you should be able to relate to how such a simple act can also affect us on so many levels. Thank you Cary:

When Peter and his friends launched Pizza Quest, calling it “a journey of self-discovery through pizza,” the idea resonated very strongly with my wife Lillian and me. We had created www.passion-4-pizza.com as a sort of love story, our love of pizza paralleling our love for each other and our passion for life. The idea of pizza as metaphor was not new to us.  Creating balance on a pizza and finding balance in our way of life are regular and rewarding challenges: the scope and scale may be very different, but both call for creativity, flexibility, and faith. And sometimes the metaphor turns out to be a literal reality!

We’ve been students of Shri Anandi Ma and members of Dhyanyoga Centers since 1996, and being involved in a community of seekers has presented us with many opportunities for growth and

 
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.

 
"Atsa Creamy-Gorg A-Peezz!"
Brad English

So, I had some Bel Gioioso Creamy Gorgonzola cheese in the fridge.  I wanted to make some pizzas. What came to mind was my friend's grandfather.  I don't know why, but often, when I cook it seems distant memories come flooding back to me.

My friend Brian had introduced me to his Nono (Grandfather) while we were back in college. As I sat there contemplating this Creamy-Gorg pizza, I got lost in the thought that if I had gotten the chance to make Nono this pizza, he would have said, "Atsa Creamy-Gorg a-peezz!"  Nono had a little shop in San Francisco where he repaired furniture for years and years and years after emigrating from Italia.  I had met Brian on my first day of college.  He's Italian and Irish with bright red hair and his nickname, which is known to half the living universe, is "Flame!"  We became fast friends. To be clear, we weren't particular fast -- as in speedy -- unless there was a last beer, or slice of pizza, or something we wanted across the room.  In that case, watch out!  I don't know why this Creamy-Gorg Pizza brought up my memory of Brian's grandfather.  But, it did.

One day, while visiting him in San Francisco, Brian was telling Nono about something we had done, or were intending to do.  He warned us from behind his waiving finger, "Atsa tha dange!"  What he meant was that it was dangerous.  What it's meant to me is countless fond memories of that moment and a constant anchor that will instantly bring me back in time to those visits I made with Brian to his grandparent's home in San Francisco.  He would always come back to school after a break with all kinds of salamis.  It was good to visit the source.  How popular do you think he was in a dorm? 

We had made a lot of dough to use during our last Pizza Quest filming, so I pulled out one of Peter's Signature Bruery Challenge Pizza Doughs, which was made with Central Milling Company's Organic Pizza Germania flour.  We'll eventually post the recipe and show a video demo of how this is made.  But, so you know, I'll tell you it has some beer malt in it.  And, it is delicious! 

When I took out the cheese and took a bite, the very first thing I did -- after thinking "Atsa tha peezz!" to myself again -- was to go to the garage refrigerator and grab a beer.  This cheese and

 
Peter's Blog, August 16th, 2011
Peter Reinhart

A few weeks ago I wrote about our visit to The Bruery in Placentia, Southern California. It was the middle stage of a three phase adventure that will culminate at the end of September in Denver at The Great American Beer Festival (aka GABF). Over the next few weeks, as we prepare to head out to Denver to film this final stage, I'm going to share some thoughts about the unique relationship between pizza and beer, and my colleague, Brad English, will join me here to fill you in on the background and lead-up to this series.

So, here's the bottom line: we're going to the GABF to make a special pizza to serve alongside a special beer created by The Bruery -- the world premier of both the pizza and beer, and the beer was created as a challenge to match with a signature Pizza Quest pizza created by Chef Kelly Whitaker (Pizzeria Basta) on a dough created by me. The Bruery folks loved the flavors of the pizza and have been hard at work brewing a unique, one of a kind beer inspired by the pizza flavors. Okay, that's the teaser--everything else you will be reading here is how we got to this place, along with some perspective and opinion. The videos won't be posted until we have the whole series edited (plus, we still have a lot of video webisodes to show you from our California tour) but we'll be giving you updates as we approach the GABF, and even blog from the site itself while we're making the pizzas in Kelly's "Fire Within" mobile oven rig outside the convention center. Brad is headed to The Bruery this week to taste the test batch, so maybe we can prevail upon him for a sneak preview, but for now, let's focus on the pizza/beer connection and then I'll let Brad start giving you the back story.

I've written before about the adage that "Beer is liquid bread," which means, at least to me, that bread must also be solid beer. Both are made by the fermentation of grain, transforming it, along with their other ingredients, into something totally new from where it began. While beer is made by first cooking the grains and then fermenting them in their liquid "wort" to create alcohol and carbon dioxide, bread is made by first fermenting the grains in their dough state and then applying

 
The MacBeth, A Pizza Memoir
Peter Reinhart

*Note from Peter: "The MacBeth" is a delightful pizza memoir sent in by a friend of Pizza Quest named Jeffrey Ippolito.  We loved it and thought it was a fun piece celebrating fond memories, good pizza (almost), and good friends.  We hope you enjoy it as well, and keep the conversation going. If you have pizza memoirs that you'd like to share and see published here please send them to us at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


The Macbeth

“The 2nd Best Pizza That Never Was”

About 20 years ago, when I was living in Columbia, Missouri, seven friends and I went to Shakespeare’s Pizza, a great local hang and pizzeria, after an Oklahoma/Missouri football game. We were starving.  Since most of our party was from out of town and I was the local ambassador, as it were, the group entrusted me to order a couple of large pizzas on behalf of the table.  I knew immediately one would be the tomato and pepper cheese.

That was, then, and remains today, my all time favorite pizza.   To me it’s pizza perfection, from it’s foundation of hand-tossed crust, a generous amount of sauce and bed of fresh cheese, to the whole slices of tangy tomatoes and spicy chunks of melting pepper cheese.  It has taste, texture and a lot of cheesy gooeyness.  The T-P-C was a standard, a must have.

However, I wasn’t sure what toppings to get on the next pizza.  As I approached the counter to order, I scanned the menu painted on pizza boards on the wall behind the counter, looking for

 
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!

 
Peter's Blog, August 9th,
Peter Reinhart

Slowly I Turned...

There are some things that make even a Pizza Quest, that is, the search for the perfect pizza, shrink into nothingness and I experienced such a thing this past week when I was in Buffalo, NY. I'm not referring to having, for the first time, Buffalo Wings in Buffalo (that was pretty cool), and also my first official Beef on Weck sandwich (that was actually amazing and memorable, especially with horseradish. Actually, I've had Beef on Weck before but never in Buffalo, which claims bragging rights, and never this good, the beef so tender it was like butter).  For those who don't know what Beef on Weck is, the Weck refers to a Kimmelweck roll, kind of like a Kaiser roll but with kosher salt and caraway seeds on top -- kummel means caraway, and the proper spelling should actually be kummelweck, with an umelot over the "u".  Weck, of course, means roll. The beef is sliced paper thin, cooked slowly, and carved off the bone before piling it on the weck, which also gets a dip into beefy jus Beef on Weck is to Buffalo what a cheese steak is to Philly and, when done properly -- which not all places can do -- is equally memorable. But all of these "only in Buffalo" culinary moments are obliterated by my first ever visit to Niagara Falls.

I know, it's such a cliche and sometimes I think maybe I'm the only American who hasn't already been there. I tried not to expect too much; I didn't really expect much. I've seen waterfalls before, big, tall powerful waterfalls, but I was totally gobsmacked by the impact of Niagara Falls when I finally got to the edge. I saw the famous vapor plumes before I saw the falls, and heard the sounds of fury as I approached, but when I got to the rail and put it all together with my first sighting of the actual falls I was speechless. And I say this having seen it only from the American

 
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/

 

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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.

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