It's All About Making Pizza In Your Home Oven. So Why Is There Suddenly A Huge-Ass Wood-Fired Beast Involved?
Last weekend, at a small gourmet butcher shop in Park City, Utah, it was a gathering of the pizza tribe. We were slinging pies of all kinds out of a giant, wood-fired oven. It was glorious. But…
If Free The Pizza is focusing on the simple joy of the home oven, why this wood-fueled monster? The lesson is simple: once you start practicing and understanding pizza, you realize that it’s about neither the oven nor the fuel.
It’s about having Pizza Mind. Pizza Mind lets you make pizza just about anywhere there’s any oven.
And why a butcher shop? That’s because chef John Courtney, co-founder of the joint, is the Chopped Champion who’s written the foreword that graces the soon-to-be-released book, Free The Pizza: A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have. John knew The Fabulous Honey Parker and I would be in town, and he said, “Hey, let’s have a party!”
The butcher shop is called Chop Shop Park City. Specializing in extraordinary meats from small farms, it has big, refrigerated cabinets with glass doors where enormous cuts of beef are aging before your eyes. When Chop Shop opened, it was an overnight smash among the foodie faction, with local gourmets flocking to the butcher case, snapping up glorious cuts of beef, pork, lamb and other viands for their home tables.
Why a butcher shop with a wood oven? The oven is for cooking all kinds of tasty things to eat, including the scintillating sandwiches that come sizzling hot for his loyal lunchtimers. John also makes flatbreads, along with a Detroit-style pizza that you’d never guess is gluten free.
But as an amateur pizza guy, the idea of working with a strange wood oven in a strange kitchen that belongs to a celebrity chef whose training is from Michelin-star restaurants in France? Admission: It was daunting. I’d already made a dough that had been fermenting for two days prior to the event. I prepped everything in the kitchen of the friends’ house where Honey and I were staying. That included all slicing, chopping, grating, portioning and pre-cooking for my planned pizzas.
I even went into our storage unit, grabbing a larger peel and a couple of big pizza trays to be sure that I had the equipment required for launching and serving the kinds of pizzas I like making: big, thoughtfully composed American-style pies that are somewhat different from Chop Shop’s smaller, European-style program.
When guests began rolling in the door of Chop Shop, I began stretching dough. Would I be making an embarrassment of myself in front of this excellent chef, his sommelier wife, my own wife the comic novelist who knows her pizza, and all our assembled friends?
It was fantastic. Sure, there were some minor errors. A strange oven and wood fire demanded more attention in a distracting environment where alcohol was involved. Occasionally, my pizzas had a touch more char on one side than the other.
When John generously told me to help myself to his gigantic stash of morels, I assembled a wild-boar salami and morel pizza. And upon launching, I rolled a couple of those magnificent mushrooms onto the floor of the oven and I had to retrieve them.
When assembling the now “legendary” shrimp, garlic and cilantro pizza, I used some colossal shrimp proffered by John. It was a dramatic statement pizza with much bigger shrimp than I’m used to—but it worked brilliantly.
Yes, it was daunting. But that’s the way with any uncharted journey, whether across a new ocean or around a new kitchen. Degrees of courage are required. And a kitchen, while potentially daunting, is unlikely to take down anyone. You can easily command a kitchen more readily than an ocean.
At this party, any errors were minor. People loved it. Everyone had a great time, and the event proved yet again: everyone is happy when they’re eating pizza. Making pizza for friends is easy, fun and fantastic. All it takes is understanding the dynamics, practicing the craft and preparing ahead of time.
Free The Pizza!
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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