It is said that every pizza maker has his own style, whether he intends it or not. It goes beyond house style, such as putting on the cheese before the tomatoes, to small matters like how you shape the edges, how close to the edge you run your sauce, how big a pinch of oregano you take when you sprinkle it on the pie just before it goes in the oven.
My style, as it emerged during the course of a day working at Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta, a few doors from the New Jersey Monthly office on the Green in Morristown, is to sweat the details to a fault. Disturbed by the thought of a pie with a Death Valley between the browned edge and the foothills of sauce and cheese, I swirled my ladle in the prescribed expanding spiral to within a hair’s breadth of the void—and, oops, sloshed some sauce over the side. That, I immediately recognized, would turn to nasty sludge as soon as the dripped sauce touched the hot floor of the oven. But before I could wipe off the drip, Anthony’s pizza master, Clemente Hernando, my benevolent supervisor for the day, was on the pie like the cut man at a boxing match, daubing and drying and, while he was at it, touching up this and that.
All of us in a pizza-loving state like New Jersey have watched so much pizza being made before our eyes (even if we didn’t think we were paying attention) that I have no doubt we could all do it in our sleep. The problem is doing it while awake, at the speed required to meet demand. Punching down the dough ball into a thick soft platter is fun and easy. Stretching the dough takes finesse and practice. Very few pie makers toss the dough in the air. Many consider that bush league. The pros dance the dough around in circles on the back of their fists in a way that could be set to music.
My first pie was deemed by Rudy Ioppolo, Anthony’s owner, to be “Not terrible. A little heavy on the cheese, but that’s okay, that’s normal.” It probably took me about three and a half minutes to get it from dough ball to oven-ready. Photographer Marc Steiner, who was there to shoot my kitchen confidential, timed Hernando in the same drill: 50 seconds.
Moving pies around the oven to make the most efficient use of space and cook them evenly is another skill entirely. When the pie comes out, it’s exhilirating to use the roller to slash it into eight equal pieces—the best part is the blade crashing through the crisp edges. Points off if you dislodge the toppings.
One more note on style. I was dismayed to see how little oregano Hernando used to dust the pie. Trying to watch each individual flake hit the surface, I came away convinced that the taste of oregano would be discernible on no more than one or two slices of the pie. What’s the point? An oregano lottery? I mentioned this to Hernando, who said he agreed with me that oregano should be on the whole pie, but he continued to toss those puny pinches. Now I know what it is like to be humored by a pizza professional.
Senior editor Eric Levin oversees dining coverage in New Jersey Monthly. Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta has yet to call him for a second shift.
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