The recent “pizza toss” morning session at the SF Food and Wine Festival seemed simple enough. We show up, watch a pizza making demonstration, take a few notes and leave. Oh, and devour about 6 pieces each before leaving (all before 11:30 am!)
The people at the helm were none other than a few Bay Area pros from Delfina, Pizzaiolo and the Grand Café. Each had a slightly different perspective but altogether the final results were outstanding. During the demonstration the crowd was introduced to traditional Neopolitan style (simple crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) plus an Alsatian delight called Flammekueche. The latter was basically a flatbread, run through pasta rollers to render it thin and topped with various items like sardines, capers, smoked salmon and figs.
I guess I thought I knew a lot about pizza, but for those who are serious about their craft, it’s anything but “just dough and sauce”. There’s the 00 flour (made in Italy, perfect for crust) the need for San Marzano tomatoes and a fair amount of discussion about olive oil in the dough (“don’t need it” seemed the concensus although it appears in most recipes!) Charlie Hallowell of Pizzaiolo also discussed the ideal oven temperature (somewhere between 750-800 degrees) which requires the removal of the temperature gauge in a standard oven (“not really recommended” joked Hallowell.)
Where did pizza get it’s start? According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word is unclear but first appeared around 997 in Medieval Latin. Of course most people know it started in Naples in the 16<sup>th</sup> century. What some might not know is that at the time pizza was a baker’s tool, a dough used to verify the temperature of the oven. It was only later that the “dish of the poor people” was sold in the streets and considered something befitting a recipe or of value.
Given the popularity – and variations - of pizza worldwide, it’s no surprise that the chef’s at last week’s event are so enthusiastic about their craft and product. No longer just a baker’s tool, it does make me wonder whether “poor food” sparks the eventual culinary trend to become mainstream and if so, what’s next?
Fig flammekueche made by the Grand Cafe's Sophiane Benaouda