Last Thursday night while I was out, I had text and voicemail messages from a longtime friend and pizza-geek reader of this blog. There was some urgency involved. I got back to him at the end of the evening. He was a couple of hours behind me. (Like a Billy Joel character, this guy used to give them the standup routine in LA. But that was another life, yet he still lives there. Lucky him!)
It turns out my friend was doing something public that showcases the Free The Pizza book, and wanted to make sure I was OK with the exposure. Let’s see. Am I OK with someone wanting to promote my books for free with no strings attached? Um… Yep.
But this friend, whom we’ll call David (because that is his name) got onto a pizza jag. He was deep into the idea of making pizzas and working with toppings and making it a part of his repertoire and feeding his friends and wooing the women in his bachelor life and, and, and…
The conversation was as much or more about creativity than anything. David’s an architect, and a kind of an artist, and a unique individual. Accordingly, his approach to pizza as he was telling it was creative and energized and a roller coaster ride on crazy quick pizza wheels.
His pizza enthusiasm was unbridled and contagious. I admit, it was exhilarating. I didn't even have to say anything. I did, of course. It's hard to stay silent when speaking pizza. But he could've just carried it for hours.
Yesterday, I spent an hour on a Zoom call with Andris Lagsdin. I’ve started calling him Pizza’s Man Of Steel. He’s the founder of www.BakingSteel.com. He comes from a Boston-area family that’s in the steel fabrication business, and has done much to popularize the idea of baking pizzas on steel in a home oven.
Andris used to be a chef, with training in culinary arts and classical French cooking. He fell into running the pizza program for celebrity chef Todd English at the notable Boston-area restaurant, Figs. I asked Andris about his favorite pizza memory. He had to think a moment, then he said that it was that moment when he first tried pizza at Figs.
“Here I am in a professional kitchen with a legend, making a pizza with him and tasting it. And that experience was like just—it just brought pizza love and passion beyond words. Just the amount of effort he put into each pie and the toppings and the nuance of baking it and the dough.
“And I just fell in love with it.” Andris is a man trained in French cuisine. He never expected to be working in pizza. And the conversation with Andris was much like the conversation with David—except that it went on for an hour. It probably could have gone on several hours longer. And it was very much about pizza being something that you do for family, for friends and even for strangers. (I didn’t ask him if, like David, it was part of romancing the women in his life. But I have suspicions. And Andris has children.)
If I may coin a phrase, Pizza is like love on a crust. Last summer, I had exchanged emails with Peter Reinhart. He’s the famous bread and pizza guru who has written several books about pizza. He also does a podcast called Pizza Quest. And, about 20 years ago, Peter’s book, American Pie became the reason I began making pizza.
In one of my emails to Peter, I mentioned a couple of pizzas I’d made that could easily sound like nonsense. One was an étouffée pizza. (Upon taking the first bite of that pizza, my wife declared, “I’ve wasted my life.”) The other pie was a deconstructed clam chowder pizza. (It started as a traditional New Haven white clam pizza, and halfway through preparing it I got different ideas. Stuff like that happens.) I’d then asked Peter about why pizza never gets old. He replied:
“That’s the million-dollar question. Why doesn’t it ever get old? I think your out-of-the-box creations help answer that—an empty canvas that can be turned into a work of culinary art, whether repeating the same pie over and over (à la Anthony Mangieri) or the infinite variety of new possibilities—the act of creation satisfies our inner selves in ways that words can't properly explain. But this is a great conversation to be had.” (Did I yet mention that Peter Reinhart is a thoughtful and generous human being? For that matter, so is Andris Lagsdin. And come to think of it, so is my friend David. I am not worthy.)
Maybe pizza really is food as art. And as Andris mentioned in our conversation, maybe it's because pizzas are like snowflakes and no two are the same. But it has to be something more than art alone.
More than once, I’ve heard people talk about the fact that pizza is a communal food, meant to be shared. It’s also round (usually) which makes it ideal for that sharing. And whether you’re trying to indulge masterfully arty oddness like a Modernist Pizza recipe for their “Octopus, Tofu And Lotus Root Pizza,” or you’re doing something as simple as paint-by-numbers cheese and pepperoni pizzas, the result is something that you’re sharing. You’re almost never making a pizza and eating it alone in the dark. (Of course, I have. When you make as much pizza as I do, everything is on the table. And sometimes, there's nothing like being alone at home, sitting in the dark with a great pizza and a glass of wine, binge-watching Vikings.)
My meandering here has probably become too existential. There’s probably frustration for that guy who stumbled onto this commentary in a Google search while seeking a recipe for a better Hawaiian pizza. (It seems those recipes are out there, and perhaps we’ll talk about one soon.)
But for me, it’s baffling that homemade pizza has become a business that must rival barbecue in terms of its equipment for sale and its impassioned devotees. And I’m forever puzzled by the fact that there are people out there, like my friend David, who are relative beginners—yet their enthusiasm and fascination is comparable to that of a seasoned pro. And, he's had people tell him that his pizza is the best they've ever had. (He's an architect. I'm certain his pizza has structure.)
Beyond its potential as art, I’ve long said that pizza is love. You make it. You share it. You do it for friends and family. At this level, you certainly don’t do it for money. But it’s also more than that.
Pizza is an energy. Pizza has a magnetism all its own. In the grand scheme of things, pizza is a blip on the radar of international importance and world events. But still, pizza captures the imagination. And not just in the US. It’s a global phenomenon.
And while pizza doesn’t answer The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe And Everything, maybe it’s trying. And maybe pizza is an equalizer. With pizza, are all things possible? Maybe world peace is just around the corner. Someone please send Putin a pepperoni pizza. Maybe we can put this Ukraine thing to bed.
Special thanks to Peter Reinhart, Andris Lagsdin, and David Applebaum, none of whom had any idea they'd be quoted in the random blathering of such pizza madness. I hope they can forgive me.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Some of the links above are affiliate links. They link to places like Amazon and Andris Lagdin's Baking Steel website for which the Free The Pizza website is flipped a few shekles at no additional cost to you.
Additionally, if you're just beginning your pizza journey and you'd enjoy a useful instruction manual that walks you through the process without a lot of choices to make (there's one dough recipe, one sauce recipe, one way of baking in your home oven), you can check out my silly little book, Free The Pizza: A System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have by clicking here. That said, Peter Reinhart's first book is really good, too. Much better and more comprehensive than mine. And so is Andris Lagsdin's. (But mine probably has more laughs.)
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.