How pretentious is the idea that you can make artisan pizza in your own kitchen using a standard home oven?
Can you really make artisan pizza at home?
What are your ingredients?
What are your tools?
And what is your attitude?
In an historical sense, dating to medieval times, artisanry refers to a skilled trade.
So technically, it seems you're not a practicing artisan. You’re an amateur working for personal enjoyment.
But in the 2000s, the word “artisan” has taken on new meaning. It can refer to food without trotting out a phrase like “culinary arts.”
Let’s look at a definition (cribbed from The Source Of All Knowledge, Wikipedia): Food artisans produce edible foodstuffs that are made by hand. These include breads and baked goods.
So by the definition of “artisan” pizza, yes, you can make it at home.
Are you using good ingredients or the cheapest stuff you can find?
If you're using good products, that can arguably be a step in the artisan direction.
My go-to ingredients right now are King Arthur flour, Caputo yeast, sea salt, filtered water, Galbani low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella, California Olive Ranch organic olive oil, a homemade blend of true DOP parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino Romano and aged provolone, and Bianco DiNapoli California tomatoes. That’s a pizza.
Toppings are varied. I try to use the best meats and produce available in the moment. Sometimes, I buy stupidly expensive toppings just to see what happens.
Can you make a pizza with Gold Medal flour, Fleischman’s yeast, Morton iodized table salt, Walmart “Great Value” mozzarella, mass-produced aged cheeses, and Hunt’s tomatoes?
And top it with a pepperoni plucked from a bag that says, “Hormel”?
Will it be “artisan” grade?
What tools are you using?
You don't have to be using the most expensive pizza oven out there.
You could argue that a Gozney Dome owner who just spent $2,000 on that oven has artisan ambitions.
But I’ve seen some of these guys in social media with expensive ovens and they’re pizza clueless.
One guy was trying to make pizza in a 900-degree oven and was asking the mob why he was getting black, scorched discs of misery.
They asked him what dough he was using, and he showed a photo of a plastic-wrapped, pre-made, supermarket pizza shell. (You know: Boboli.)
Knowing how to manage useful tools is part of an artisan pursuit.
An ability to simply buy artisan tools is something different.
Is a meal any more artisan because it was prepared using a $30 Dexter-Russell 8-inch stainless-steel chef’s knife instead of a $120 Henckels 8-inch stainless steel chef’s knife?
Of course not.
But there are people who geek out on knives.
And being a knife geek is unrelated to any ability to produce an artisan product from a home kitchen.
A sharp chef’s knife is a sharp chef’s knife. But how are your knife skills? (I’m sure I have all kinds of bad knife habits.)
BTUs are similar. Managing the 29,000 BTUs in a tiny, cruel oven is different than managing the 19,000 BTUs in a home oven.
Whaddaya do with that BTU?
In part, artisanry is about craft. How are you crafting your product using the tools available to you?
But most of all, what is your attitude?
An attitude of doing the best possible job with what you have available might be considered an artisan attitude.
It may not produce a true artisan product.
The product might be limited by the tools and the ingredients and skills in the moment.
And there are limits.
I once bought a cheap, Big Brand supermarket pizza kit and made a pizza using the best practices I know—and the pizza was not great.
It resembled a decent chain-store pizza product. It was competent if commercial tasting. Edible. Not artisan.
But that pizza was far better tasting (and looking) than the cardboard-ish pizza voted most likely to make you cry that I made using the same kit and following the directions on the side of the cardboard box.
Making artisan pizza is not easy.
It becomes easier (and better) as you practice the craft.
But just slopping together a pile of stuff is not artisan.
And sometimes, despite using artisan equipment and ingredients, a slopped-together pile of stuff is just what happens.
There are a lot of guys out there who are too busy to care. They have unlimited funds to buy expensive ovens and have a limited interest in the practice.
There are plenty of other guys who have a home oven and a steel who are baking unimaginably good pizza.
And it's all because they approached it from a place of desire to do better.
There’s always going to be a learning curve.
Tools and ingredients can be limiting.
But there’s no place you can go to buy an artisan attitude and a willingness to travel up the learning curve.
And maybe the biggest question here is this: Is calling yourself an artisan kinda pretentious?
I think so.
Despite my tools, ingredients and aspirations, I just go with “geek.”
It feels more honest.
Have you embarked on your pizza adventure yet? If you’re thinking about spinning flour, water, salt and yeast into cheesy discs of delight, check out my simple and silly how-to manual for making pizza happen: Free The Pizza—A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
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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