John Arena gives his take on what makes pizza so special.
Pizza explains John is a collaborative food. He says that professional pizza makers are actually astounded that there so much discussion about pizza.
When you go to a pizzeria you go go with the idea that the pizza maker will make your vision of what is a perfect pizza.
In that sense making pizza is really a collaborative process.
You figure it out with your friends and the people you are with. You then communicate that with the pizzaiolo and he tries to recreate what you this is the perfect pizza.
John brings out the idea and asks: is pizza really authentic Italian origin?
There is no disagreement that pizza is made with a dough and crust. John says that dough goes back to the ancient Egyptians. He reveals that beer and pizza are related. Beer is a liquid form of pizza dough.
Was it perhaps the Greeks who started making flat bread? The bread came from Egypt and was perfected by Greek bakers.
The tomato, however did come from the new world. Brought by the Spaniards to the Neapolitan area. And of course tomato was at thought to be at first poisonous. Somehow the tomato made it onto pizza.
The water buffalo was brought over by the Crusaders. They were the ones who added buffalo mozzarella. The spice cam from India: the basil.
John quotes Jonathan Goldsmith who has a poem in his pizzeria, Spacca Napoli. The gist of the poem is that dough, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil do not make the pizza. There is a missing ingredient in the pizza: the heart of the pizza maker!
Course Description: A survey course on the history, culture and developing trends in the creation and production of pizza. The course includes, lectures, readings, ingredient analysis, production demonstrations and hands-on work with regard to the art and science of pizza-making.
Week 1: History of Pizza
A discussion of the evolution of pizza and related flatbreads from the ancient Greeks to the kitchens of celebrity chefs. We will discuss how historical events and migration have shaped pizza, where we started, where we are now, and where we may be headed. Class will be divided into three teams for final project.
Week 2: Napoli
Napoli is the birthplace of pizza as we know it. Discussion and hands-on demonstration of pizza as it is prepared in Naples. We will examine the approved standards of the VPN Italy’s governing body of pizza.
Week 3: Pizza Comes to the New World
An examination of pizza as it was prepared in New York’s Little Italy in the early 1900’s and how and why it has changed over time. Demonstration and practice of proper hand-crafting techniques.
Week 4: Dough Production
It all starts here. Basics of crust formulation. We will examine selection of ingredients, proper mixing and fermentation, and variations that will change flavor profiles and texture.
Week 5: Basics of Sauce, Cheese and Spices
We will sample and compare ingredients and learn to prepare a base pizza sauce. This class will also examine regional preferences and variations of the basic ingredients.
Week 6: In the Thick of It
Chicago Style Deep Dish, Foccacia, Stuffed Pizza and Calzones. We will examine the origins and elements of these pizza variations including hands-on practice of basic techniques.
Week 7: Pizza in the 21st Century
An examination of multi-cultural influences and current trends in the pizza world including sample and discussion of pizzas with nontraditional toppings.
Week 8: Presentation of Final Projects
Each team will have 15 minutes to prepare the team’s Pizza Creation including a spoken explanation of the inspiration and rationale behind its development. Final written examination.
Pizza has always been America’s favorite food. It’s been the subject of movies, books, and songs. Pizza is not only a food of sustenance, but for some has become an obsessive delight. And for many Pizza Fans, pizza is a sheer and utter passion. Pizza debate brings on an endless thirst for argument that cannot be easily quenched with just a slice or two.
People discuss their favorite pizzerias with the same emotionally charged energy as they would discuss politics or their favorite sports team. Pizza has become so entrenched into the culture that it is easy to forget, pizza was once simply peasant food. Pizza was for many years, enjoyed by the lower echelons of society, who could afford little else.
For most of Pizza’s long and romantic history, pizza was a regional dish. The great pizza in New York stayed in New York.
The inside secrets of the best New York pizza remained in the boroughs and neighborhoods where it was created. There would be an occasional newspaper or magazine article. Television and radio reporters would sporadically discuss pizza on regional and local venues. However, unless you visited New York, these inside pizza secrets remained mysteries to the rest of the country.
The pizza in New Haven stayed in New Haven. Frank Pepe began making pizza in 1925. Sally’s founded by Franks, nephew, Salvatore Consiglio, came into being a decade later. Modern Apizza, also in New Haven developed their own brick oven masterpieces. Up the road in Derby, Connecticut, Roseland Apizza had created their own brand of incredible pizza, independently of anyone else.
Most people outside of New Haven were clueless to the pizza being created there. This was true for most of the residents of the entire state. Most Connecticut residents had never thought of traveling to New Haven to eat pizza. And why would they? They had their own great pizza, or so they thought.
And so it had been across the country. State by state, region by region. From the East Coast to the Heartland. From the Deep South to the West Coast. From Chicago to Los Angeles. From Portland to Louisiana. Pizza made in that region stayed in that region. There was no cross over. No sharing of pizza ideas.
The only way you discovered regional pizza was by knowing someone who lived there or by traveling yourself to a particular area and searching it out. Other than that, pizza was regionalized remained hidden and undiscovered.
This was true not only of the United States but across the entire planet. Pizzerias in Italy, all of Europe and other continents hid their pizza secrets to all but the fortunate residents and random traveler.
However, things were about to change. Enter the great game changer. The Big Kahuna of Information was about to turn regionalized pizza into a global point of argument and dialogue.
The floodgates of the great pizza symposium were opened. The Internet was the single biggest catalyst to educate, inform and open the debate of how to make pizza and where to find great pizza. The earth had truly become a global village of pizza. Now various countries, regions cities and towns were able to showcase their own marvel of pizza.
Slowly at first, websites were created. Here and there pizza was discussed. Pizza making secrets were shared. People became aware of pizza in other areas. Pizza Forums and blogs picked up the banner. And today you will find hundreds and hundreds of pizza related websites, blogs and discussion forums. All of these information portals share insights and knowledge about pizza.
Finally pizza lovers across the globe had a common voice. Pizza was given a common arena of deliberation and examination.
However, even the Internet assisted with the promotion of these books and allowed for more seasoned debate about pizza. Now you did not have to go out to purchase a book. If you found a pizza book you liked, you could just order it online and have delivered right to your door.
As much as the Internet did to create knowledge about countless unknown pizzerias, it became a way to show people how to make pizza. For the first time pizza fans could learn recipes and techniques from home. They could discuss and even ask questions. And if that weren’t enough the advent of video allowed pizza fans to learn pizza making by seeing it demonstrated in front of their eyes. And if they missed something the first time around, they could watch it again and again.
Some of the pizza information was free, while others (myself included I created: The Pizza Therapy Pizza Book ) created their own pizza e-books for sale.
There were a number of pizza fans who decided to take pizza making to the next level by opening their own pizzeria. I have been shocked and surprised at the number of world class pizzaioli who revealed to me, they first learned pizza making from the Internet.
This has happened to me on a number of occasions. I arrived at a pizza restaurant, looking forward to a classic pizza. I had the pizza, I loved the pizza, and when I asked the owner where they learned to make pizza, they proudly declared: they learned all about pizza making directly from the Internet.
And so that’s how the Internet changed Pizza History. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
From Gary Bimonte, Frank Pepe’s grandson, we are pleased to share the real history of Fank Pepe’s:
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
is one of the oldest and best-known pizzerias in the United States. Known locally as Pepe’s, is has its Original Location in the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven, CT, as well as stores in Fairfield, Manchester and Danbury CT, Yonkers, NY., and Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria was founded in 1925 by Frank Pepe (b. April 15, 1893 d. September 6, 1969). Born in the town of Maiori, on the Amalfi coast, southwest of Naples, Frank Pepe was the quintessential Italian immigrant. Poor and illiterate, he immigrated to the United States in 1909 at age 16 with little more than his health and a strong work ethic. His first job was at a New Haven, CT factory until he returned to fight for his native Italy in World War 1 a few years later.
He married Filomena Volpi, also from Maiori, in 1919. As newly-weds they returned to New Haven, CT in 1920 to begin building their new lives together.
Frank Pepe took a job at a local Wooster Street macaroni manufacturer, Genneroso Muro (the current location of Libby’s Italian Pastry). He then worked for Tony Apicella at his bread bakery, also on Wooster St.
He made his first entrepreneurial move by establishing his own bakery at 163 Wooster Street — in business today as Frank Pepe’s the Spot – baking his bread and delivering to the local community with a cart. Since he had difficulty documenting, because of his illiteracy, to whom he delivered and to the quantity, he soon abandoned his efforts of delivery. Instead, he made the fortuitous decision to start a business where his customers would come to him.
In 1925, with his wife Filomena, who was a pivotal influence on his success (she was literate and learned to speak and write English), they started making a simple and humble product from their homeland, pizza — or as they would say in their Neapolitan dialect, “apizza” (ah-beets). They baked their pizzas offering two types, tomatoes with grated cheese, garlic, oregano and olive oil and the other with anchovy. The Original Tomato Pie is still offered today and anchovy is still available as a topping. Mozzarella and additional ingredients were to follow.
In the formative years 1925 — 1937, he employed a small crew of relatives that included his half brother Alessio Pepe and his son Mac, cousin Tommy Sicignano, nephews Salvatore and Tony Consiglio. Incidentally, Salvatore Consiglio, after learning pizza baking from his uncle Frank, eventually made the decision to establish his own pizzeria on Wooster Street, the well known Sally’s Apizza.
In 1937, Frank Pepe bought the building next door at 157 Wooster Street, and moved his pizzeria to what is historically understood to be the main (although not the original) location. The original location continued as a pizzeria, called The Spot and operated by the Boccamiello family.
Like many business owners of the day, Frank Pepe lived above the pizzeria with his family that now included his daughters Elizabeth and Serafina. Everyone worked downstairs in the pizzeria. Frank Pepe became know as “Old Reliable” for his contributions to community and unwavering love for his growing family.
In the late 1970s, Elizabeth and Serafina, purchased the original bakery (163 Wooster St.) from the Boccamiello’s and re-opened Frank Pepe’s the Spot as an annex to the main building.
Pepe’s reputation as one the country’s premier pizzeria spread through word of mouth. In the early 1990s, Elizabeth and Serafina retired and the business passed to their children – Anthony, Francis, Lisa, Bernadette, Genevieve, Jennifer and Gary — who still operate the business today and have overseen its expansion.
Frank Pepe originated the New Haven-style thin crust pizza which he baked in bread ovens fired by coke. Coke is a byproduct of coal and it was used extensively until the late 1960′s when it became unavailable and hence coal was then put into use to fire the oven.
Pepe’s signature pizza, the White Clam Pizza, was most likely an organic inspiration by Frank Pepe; an idea born from the fact that Pepe’s also served raw little neck clams from Rhode Island, on the half shell, as an appetizer. This development occurred around the mid 1960′s and gradually became popular through the past 40 years. Contrary to what many have heard, Frank Pepe did not have an allergy to cheese and tomatoes and the white clam pizza’s evolution should not be attributed to this false malady.
A lot has happened since Frank Pepe starting baking “ah-beets” 85 years ago. Pizza has gone from an obscure ethnic dish to become a mainstay of the American dining scene. But what hasn’t changed at Pepe’s is the family’s commitment to the tradition of food quality and commitment to the community at large that Frank Pepe envisioned in 1925.