Brian Spangler, Apizza Scholls
Posted 17 April 2006 - 12:32 PM
I started my career in grain fermentology in 1987, when I was a freshman at UCSC. I somehow talked my way into the head baking position at a small old school bakery making everything from sourdough and challah breads to puff pastry and cookies. The earthquake of 1989 took down the bakery; however I was still curious about the science behind grain fermentation, so I started a new path, working in seven different breweries throughout the Bay Area until 1998.
My interest in going back to bread baking was spurred by an article on Chad Robertson, who had just opened up a small brick oven bakery in Pointe Reyes, CA (just north of S.F.). The idea of returning to crafting the bread with just two hands and some simple fuel was both attractive as well as a good challenge, so when we moved to Portland in 2000, I took the plunge and started working on building Olive Mountain Baking Co. brick by brick from the ground up -- literally.
Upon my arrival to the Portland Metro area, I could not find pizza that I liked, or that reminded me of the pizzas that I had grown up on, nor the pizzas that I had lived on in New York for two years. I decided that while I was working on Olive Mountain Baking Co., I would try to recreate the classic coal oven pizzas that I loved so much from pizzerias such as Grimaldi's, Patsy's, Totonno's, etc. On our days off from making bread, we would use the brick oven to try to duplicate the classic American Neopolitan-style pizzas that I loved so much. Three years, trips back to NY, all the information that I could find on the subject, and who knows how many pizzas later, I finally began to feel that I had not only gotten close to the flavor and texture characteristics of the classic coal oven pizzas, but developed my own unique style. Even after 50,000 or more pizzas, we still learn every day and I think that we continue to improve our take on this style of pizza.
I was always obsessed with pizza as a kid. The smell of walking into a pizzeria was second to none, but I was intrigued by the pizza makers themselves. I would watch the pizza makers spin, toss, and work the ovens. It looked simple enough, yet there was a mystery about how it all came together.
When I lived in NY, this obsession was taken to another level eating at the classic coal oven pizzerias. The cheese was creamier, the sauce was brighter, and the crust had textural components that went from crispy to light and airy with a certain amount of pull and tooth that I had not experienced previously. Then there was the char that added a balance to the acidity of the tomatoes as well as a smoky balance to the silky mozzarella.
Luckily, when I moved back to the Bay Area, I found a couple of pizzerias that satisfied my pizza craving; however, they were still lacking certain elements that the pizzerias in NY had -- mainly the char. What they did have, however, was soul. I noticed that all of my favorite pizzerias were small, family-owned operations that operated by the same people every time I went. They took extreme pride in what they were doing, and they did not do it to just make money. To them, their pizzas were just as important as a song to a musician or a poem to a poet. It was their creation. They took joy in the process as well as watching it bring smiles upon their customers' faces.
After further research, it became very clear that that the best pizzerias had pizziaolos, or those who made pizza their craft or creative outlet. They were there every day learning and using their knowledge and experience to make the best pizza they could. This is becoming a lost art in the US, but thanks to certain torch carriers and the attention they are bringing to pizza, such as Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana, Dominic Demarco of Di Fara's, and Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, I feel that the craft will be kept alive for at least another couple of generations.
It is my firm belief that the best pizza in the world is made by the same people every day. The pizza has to be baked at extremely hot temperatures. The dough has to be fermented for a long time with a minimum of yeast, using only low protein flour. The dough should not have anything besides yeast, flour, water, and salt -- and the dough must be mixed entirely by hand. Most importantly, the people who make the pizza must put their life and soul into the craft. Pizza is only important if you make it important and I choose to make it important because it is important to me.
The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin
Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole
Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home
Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's