Can you emulate the crazy and colorful pizza journey of a high-fashion foodie from New Jersey who’s been transplanted to St. Petersburg?
FAIR WARNING: This is probably the only homemade pizza story you'll ever read that involves the British Monarchy, men's fashion, fine dining, Netflix and sex. Proceed at your own discretion.
In social media pizza groups, it doesn't take long to notice who’s making the great looking homemade pizzas. One of those pizza people is Kevin Godbee. His pies quickly catch your attention. His pizzas look really good, and he is relentless about producing them.
It was also impressive when Kevin asked for my New York-style pizza dough recipe. It was still in the early stages, and I told him as much. Almost immediately, he began sharing with me his tweaks to it. There was even a spreadsheet.
Then, when Kevin posted photos of his pizzas inspired by the Netflix series Chef’s Table: Pizza, I thought, People need to know about this guy. He should be an inspiration for the home pizzamaker.
Important fact here: Kevin’s been making pizza for less than a year. That he has no experience in a professional kitchen makes him an amateur pizzaiolo whose opinions are worthy of note to the newbie.
Maybe Kevin’s most notable newbie advice about pizza is this: “It’s not that hard. Everyone should try it.”
And Free The Pizza’s favorite piece of Godbee wisdom: “The pizza oven makers are going to hate us both. But seriously, folks: you don’t need to blow that money on a pizza oven.” (That doesn't mean dedicated pizza ovens are out, and we'll be talking about that more in a bit.)
So how did all this happen? You might say it started with a fashion statement. Living in St. Petersburg, Florida, Kevin Godbee is one snappy dresser, with a graphic, GQ style informed by the Duke of Windsor. (Yep, that is indeed the same man who gave us the eponymous necktie knot which most of us don’t know how to tie.)
If you’re not familiar with this radical member of the British royal family, Edward VIII was known for bucking convention. He was a serious iconoclast. From his behavior to his politics to his fashion sense to his marrying an American divorcée (a huge problem with regard to constitutional convention and which required him to abdicate the throne), the Duke of Windsor, Prince of Wales Edward VIII was always known for coloring outside the lines—and that included royal haberdashery.
When Kevin and his girlfriend, Lori met in 2013, he says, “My primary passion was classical men’s style, and to dress like Edward VIII when he became a style icon back in the 1930s.” Kevin was also influenced by the wardrobe design in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
But man does not live by fashion alone. Frequently, there must be fine dining. “If you’re going to be a snappy dresser, it doesn’t make any sense to stay home and leave your wardrobe in the closet.” So Lori and Kevin began dressing up and going out to dinner most every night. And, of course, out came their cameras.
“We took pictures of our food and posted them on Facebook just for fun. When you do this nearly every night for one and a half years, it doesn’t go unnoticed.” People began asking for restaurant recommendations, and it snowballed from a Facebook hobby to a Facebook Group called St. Petersburg Foodies Restaurant Reviews, then to a blog. It all became a serious business focusing on independent, locally-owned St. Petersburg restaurants. Kevin Godbee and Lori Brown are co-founders of StPetersburgFoodies.com, the definitive online resource of the St. Pete food & drink scene.
But still, from the story so far, it doesn’t seem that Kevin Godbee is a cook. He’s eating a lot of great food. He’s writing about it. But where does the pizza making come in? What was his pizza inspiration? Was it his youth in northern New Jersey—a place which has some of the best pizza around?
“I never knew there was any kind of pizza except New York-style made by a single mom & pop shop until I was around 30 years old. I didn’t know anything about the big chains.”
“My inspiration is part of a culinary journey that got a robust kick in the tail in mid-2020. A few years prior, I was questioned about my credentials as a restaurant reviewer. This stayed with me, and then I learned that Tampa Bay Times Food Critic Laura Reilly had graduated culinary school—not to work in a restaurant, but to be qualified to critique them.” So Kevin took a deep dive into all things culinary. He enrolled in online cooking schools, subscribed to food magazines, and began watching every cooking show and cooking competition he could.
When he got to his cooking school’s pizza classes in December 2021, “They were too brief for me, so I started participating in the forums at pizzamaking.com, and got a subscription to PMQ Pizza Magazine.” (PMQ is a trade journal for the pizza industry. A lot of us geeks read it, too.) Besides reading everything he can about pizza, Kevin says he’s watching every video he can find about making pizza and pizza dough.
Since December 2021, this man has been making a lot of pizza. Kevin admits, “At least every other weekend. More recently, it’s been every week.”
So this newly minted pizza man had only nine months of pizza making under his belt when along came Netflix’s Chef’s Table: Pizza. Kevin was so inspired by the series that he decided to tackle some of the pizza world’s most interesting signature pizzas:
If you understand what each of these three pizzas means in the grand scheme of “important pizzas” (dear God, have we really reached that place—somebody stop me!), you know that the chutzpah required to tackle them is impressive.
Then, Kevin unleashes the peaches! I admit that I’m not usually seeking out pizza topped with fruit. I’m also not a big fan of fussy pizzas. But in the wake of that Netflixy trinity, Kevin posted a photo of a fourth pie. It was inspired by the winner at a pizza competition in which he and Lori had been judges. The pizza was topped with fresh peaches, prosciutto, garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, asiago, basil, and a balsamic drizzle.
That pizza is audacious enough that I’d go there in a second. But wait, there’s more!
Just a few days later, Kevin is sharing even more pizzas:
Madness! I admit that even I, as a guy with 20 years of pizza experience, and who has been making pizza almost daily for the last month--even I am stunned by this man’s output with only nine months of pizza making.
Did all of these pizzas leap fully formed onto the peel as if Athena from the head of Zeus? [Insert Greek pizzeria joke here.] Fortunately, Kevin Godbee is a mere mortal, so the answer is no.
“Like a lot of things, it’s a combination of luck and determination." Kevin says, "At first, it was a little awkward stretching the dough and getting a perfectly round shape, but you know what they say about practice. At first, I was only making 10-inch pizzas because if I tried to go bigger, I would mess up. Then I got to 12 inches, and recently made a nice 14-inch pizza.”
Does this mean that pizza is easy for Kevin? He says, “Not to take anything away from the Master Pizzaiolos out there, but it’s not that hard. Everyone should try it.”
I agree, and with the same disclaimer. Being Chris Bianco means being a pizza savant, and most of us will never attain that level of mastery. Beyond that, making good pizza at home is entirely doable.
And I also say try it in your home oven because, hey, you already own it and it works for pizza. That’s not to say you might not want to one day get an actual pizza oven. Kevin admits he has his eye on one.
I asked him which one, and Kevin said, “The HALO Versa 16 Dual-Burner Propane Outdoor Pizza Oven.” This is an interesting oven I’ve never seen. It has a rotating stone, and the thing I love: It bakes pizzas up to 16 inches. That’s a big deal. If you want to see the oven, click here.
Another tip from Kevin: “A newbie might not want to hear this, but don’t be afraid to make your own dough. Plan it out and ferment it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before making the pizza.” I can second that. Had I not done it that way myself the very first time I made “real” pizza, I don’t know if I would have been so amazed by the homemade pizza possibilities.
I asked Kevin what it is he loves about making pizza for other people. “I love making pizza for others because it's so satisfying to indulge people with something that they get so much pleasure out of. Pizza is as good as sex.”
Additionally, Kevin was good enough to not only buy but actually read my little book, Free The Pizza!: A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have. I told him thank you for that, as well as for leaving a positive review on Amazon. (No, I did not pay him for that.) I’m also flattered to know he learned a couple of useful tricks from that book. In fact, just last week, I executed one of those tricks in front of a chef who trained in Michelin-star kitchens, and he said, “Hey, that’s really cool!” (To find out what it is, you have to read the book.)
Free the pizza!
As mentioned, Kevin Godbee, homemade pizza demigod, resides in St. Petersburg, Florida and is the co-founder, along with Lori Brown, of StPetersburgFoodies.com
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?
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