When we first started this journey almost four months ago, my partners and I were very limited in our understanding of pizza, much less Neapolitan pizza. But as with any good science experiment and performance improvement project would dictate, you need to identify your baseline before you can track your improvement.
One partner of the three of us works in the food industry (let’s call him Aku) and has worked in a variety of Italian restaurants (Timpones, Maggianos, and Del Monico), he now lives in Arizona working as a sushi chef and had no experience with Neapolitan style pizzas. The other partner (let’s call him Gambit, based on his favorite comic book character) is a scientific foodie like me, and works in technology. As for me, I work as a project manager in performance improvement at a healthcare benchmarking and consulting firm. With our only commercial food experience between the three of us living in another state, we had a lot of learning to do.
Gambit and I decided to host a pizza night with our wives early on so that we could talk about business, and get some practice in making pizza. Let me tell you now, it was ugly… how ugly, you ask? We did a 3 day ferment, but completely roughed up the dough… with no concept of technique, no practice, and no teacher to guide us, we made some ugly looking pies. Take a look for yourself at some of the pictures below…
And those were just the successful ones that came out of the oven! We planned for eight pizzas, and four of them ended up sticking to the peel when we tried to deliver the pizza to the stone, and we ended up calling them “calzones”… but even those, the dough wasn’t fully cooked through and we had to toss! We were at a 50% success rate. We were terrible at making pizza. The truth hurts sometimes, but you have to accept the truth. It’s the only way to recognize how to get better.
And then the journey began… we research techniques online and tried again. We went to Neapolitan pizza places in any town we were in (I do some travel for my work) and watched pizzaolos work the dough with different stretching techniques and tried again. We hosted parties with family and friends, and tried again. (Btw, my thanks and apologies to those who were subject to our early pizza experiments. You know who you are, and I love you all for being willing to be our test dummies). I would spend hours after work and on weekend re-watching techniques on video, and then throw more family parties to host people over for pizza so that I had an excuse to make more. And now, four months later, we’ve vastly improved…
Our pizzas look far better… and more importantly, TASTE far better as well. But as with any improvement project, the journey has only just begun. There’s still more room to stretch the dough even more so that I can create more surface area for more toppings, to get the cornicione just right with a balance of airiness and chew, to get the timing just right so that the bottom has a light crisp without overcooking the tops, etc. The variables, like in any forms of cooking, are infinite and wide. But one pizza at at time, we continue to strive to perfect our craft.
As we continue to eat out at other pizza places, we’ve come to respect the intricacies of making a great Neapolitan pizza (especially those that are tagged Vera Pizza Napoletana worthy) even more… the acceptable thickness of the crust vs the cornicione, the freshness of the topping used, just how much you can stretch the dough and the skill it takes to learn when to stop stretching… because of this, we’ll probably never come out and say that we make Neapolitan pizzas, as the respect we have for a true traditional Neapolitan pizza is just too high. But we plan to do our best and create a pizza in the style of Neapolitan pizza (thus Neo-Neapolitan or Neapolitan-style) that we believe everyone will love and enjoy.
We realize that even though we’re at the start of this journey and have made great progress, there’s still plenty of road ahead of us to continue mastering a great pie. And let me tell you, just over 200 pies later, we’ve been making sure to enjoy every step of the journey as we go along. (I’ve increased the intensity of my CrossFit workouts to balance out all these pies!) Between now and the farmer’s market, we’ll probably have made another 300-400 pies (which is over 150 lbs of flour!), and I’ve no doubt we’ll see some marked improvements compared to now.
And with that, I’m off to make some dough… Eyedoc woke up yesterday feeling sick and craving my Neapolitan-style pizza. I’ll take that as a compliment since I could tell by her face she wasn’t a fan of our first attempts from before. It’s nice to move along in the journey.. don’t you agree?