Winning hearts and minds with fantastic homemade pizza: Simple tips from Hollywood's "Architect To The Stars."
When the Free The Pizza book first came out last summer, there was a flood of enthusiastic email from all kinds of people, offering photos of their exciting new pizzas. But nobody was sending pizza pics as frequently and with as much enthusiasm as David Applebaum.
In Los Angeles, David has a reputation as an architect to the stars. His client roster features a diverse range of names, from Cuba Gooding, Jr. to Hiro Yamagata to Brad Grey. You may also have seen David on TV, hosting Nat Geo’s Inside American’s Mansions.
Since David is a colorful character who seems justifiably proud of his pizza progress, I asked him if he’d be willing to sit down in front of the computer for a profiles-in-pizza interview. His reply was something like, “Of course!” (Besides being an occasional TV personality, David has also been a standup comic, so he’s no stranger to putting himself “out there.”)
BLAINE: David, thanks for doing this. We’ll start with the question that we give everyone here: What is your favorite pizza memory?
DAVID: I have so many favorite memories. My first pizza memory was also the first time I had pizza with a root beer—that creamy A&W root beer made the flavors dance in my 6-year-old mouth.
I have very fond memories of my first NY slice on the streets of New York, feeling like I was John Travolta. (See: Saturday Night Fever, kids).
That first pizza in Italy was sublime.
I’ll never forget my first misshaped, homemade pie that probably made me as relieved as joyful because it came out so well.
And sorry for all you purists, but that first Hawaiian pizza was a pleasant surprise. I’m one of those pushover dads. My son made me order Hawaiian pizza because he loved one he’d tried at a sleepover. I thought I was going to gag trying to eat a kiddie abomination. But I remember saying to myself that even a bad pizza is pretty damn good. So I took a bite. And not only did I enjoy the sweet, savory and tart combination, but I started respecting my kid’s palate.
Ever since then, we’ve been cooking together. That pizza opened up a father-son culinary relationship that continues to this day, so that one is pretty dear to my heart.
BLAINE: All understandable favorites, but especially that last one. And it reflects something I’ve heard from several dads who’ve started making pizza with their kids. So, how and why did you start making pizza?
DAVID: I love cooking. I could be poetic and tell you how cooking is “Serving love on a plate.” I could say it’s because I get to choose the ingredients and know what’s going into my body. Or that it’s because working the dough and learning something new with every pizza is therapeutic. Or that making dough is Zen-like in that it takes intention, focus and care. Or that it was so much easier than I thought it would be, and that my first attempt was so much better than I even imagined, that I’ve just kept playing pizzaiolo since then. I could even say that pizza is a creative delivery system for so many flavor possibilities or that the pies that come out of my home oven impress everyone.
But the truth is that I am cheap.
Restaurant meals cost so much. (When did a steak go from $40 to $90 and pasta from $12 to $30?) I can say that I create a restaurant-quality pizza that compares to the best of the best, and with quality ingredients, for less than the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac, fries and drink. Why eat a fast-food burger when I can have one of my own pizzas?
BLAINE: You seem to have become kind of a homemade pizza maniac. What do you love about making pizza at home?
DAVID: Maniac? That seems a bit presumptuous. I prefer to think of myself as a pizza artist. But if you saw the sauce splattered all over the kitchen, and my not-perfectly-round pizzas, or heard me yelling at the dough to play nice, you would… Yeah, you’d call me a maniac. (That was hard to admit.)
Making pizzas at home started as a creative outlet. But damnit (I’m embarrassed to admit this): What I love about making pizza at home is getting to show it off. So maybe I’m actually a pizza showoff.
Everyone loves pizza. So being able to say, “Yeah, I make my own scratch dough and sauce” is pretty gratifying. On top of that, they hear I make pizza and an implied gauntlet is thrown down. Many say, “Yeah, but is it as good as [insert name of pizza hot spot here]?” This led to the first of many times that my date would actually WANT to come to my home, inviting herself so I can prove that I make that good a pizza. And the good impression scores big points.
Add the fact that I get to look impressive without depleting my retirement account. This ego-driven boost also goes for my friends and my neighbors AND the time my rather snobby decorator colleague could only meet in the evening, so I suggested that we meet at my home with the offer that I make a pizza. She actually turned up her nose and crinkled it. With confidence, I shared that my creation was all scratch-made and excellent. Her response was something to the effect of, “I don’t have much of a choice do I?”
Of course, I bought the best cheeses and a new basil plant. I prayed a little as I blended my San Marzano tomatoes. She was so blown away with the Margherita pie that came out of my home oven that the meeting turned in her complimenting everything I had designed. And from that day, she’s treated my architectural decisions with greater respect. (OK, maybe THAT is my favorite memory.)
BLAINE: Nice! Winning friends and influencing people through homemade pizza. It’s a safe bet Dale Carnegie never thought about that one. So, what are some important tips for a beginning home pizza maker?
DAVID: The first tip is to be courageous. This is easier than you might think. But you have to make a decision to just do it. Be bold in kneading that dough. And have faith that you can launch and then retrieve your pie from the oven.
Secondly, be patient. Don’t shortcut any step. It does take some time for the dough to hydrate, the yeast to blossom, and then to prep the pie for baking. But that patience will pay off in a crispy, chewy crust that shapes evenly and becomes something that melds beautifully in your mouth.
And finally, have FUN. As your creation, it IS special, but come on… It’s pizza. Even when misshapen, or weirdly cooked… it’s a pizza. You’ll still be eating a great crust and tasty sauce, cheese and maybe some toppings. No matter what, you get to eat something that’s still freaking delicious.
BLAINE: As an architect, you’re a creative professional. You’ve also had various creative avocations. (See also: standup comedy.) In your world, how does pizza become an act of creativity?
DAVID: I see every crust as a blank canvas. And I think that I’ve tackled my pizza journey the way I’ve learned to be an architect. As an architect in my 20s, there were so many things that I had to juggle, including colors, textures, light, shadow, costs, client requirements, client dreams, building codes, flow, rhythm…I could go on and on.
I was green, and I asked a mentor for advice. He shared something that worked for him. He said to start with just a few colors, textures and elements. Build upon a simple but elegant order with classic detail. After getting comfortable with those elements, add more colors, a nuanced but directed order, add shadows to the light options, toy with proportions and build my repertoire with each step.
My first pizza was the basic margherita, with a decent cheese and a simple sauce and fresh herbs. After a few of those initial pizzas, I played with better cheeses and a more nuanced sauce. I started adding more and more toppings and even found inspiration with leftovers or something delicious I thought I could make into a pizza.
I do return to the classics from time to time, but now the possibilities seem endless. I was also taught that as a creative, we call the field of architecture a “practice” because one never gets something perfect. We’re always learning, expanding our skill set and getting bolder. We might not ever find perfection, but we try to get closer and closer with each project.
I think making pizza is the exact same thing.
BLAINE: Anything else I should’ve asked and didn’t?
DAVID: I’ve blabbered on and on and on. I’ll bet you that I’ve used more words than anyone else you’ve honored with these questions. You know I can’t do yes-or-no responses, and you want more?
BLAINE: Perfect. I’ll take that as a “No.” :-)
Thanks to David Applebaum for playing. If you’d like to know more about David’s work as an architect, you can find him online at www.DavidApplebaum.com. And if you’re looking to begin your own journey as a pizza architect, check out the simple and silly pizzamaking manual, Free The Pizza: A System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have by clicking here.
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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