Chef Chat: Dan Richer Gets Pizza Down to a Science

In his forthcoming book, "The Joy of Pizza," Richer of Jersey City's Razza unveils the secrets to making restaurant-quality pies at home.

pizza razza
Richer and co-author Katie Parla

Creating restaurant-style pizza at home can be quite a challenge, but Dan Richer has been working hard to solve the problem. Owner of Jersey City’s acclaimed Razza, he’s been experimenting with home pizza-making since the early 2000s, mastering the science and the art of combining dough, cheese, sauce and toppings.

Richer puts his expertise on every page of his forthcoming book, The Joy of Pizza, guiding home bakers whose equipment may be ordinary or specialized. Due in October, the book delves into ingredients, techniques and much more, all with step-by-step instructions and color photographs. He includes many of his own favorite recipes.

“Through science and practice, I was able to put together ingredients with great technique and create an extraordinary pizza,” Richer says. “We’re giving all of that away in the book. People can make restaurant quality pizza at home.”

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Table Hopping: Was pizza always something you were passionate about?
Dan Richer: I’ve been making pizza since I got out of college. I went to Rutgers and skipped my graduation ceremony to go to Italy. I traveled from Rome all the way up to the very north of Italy. I had always worked in restaurants, and it was after that trip that I knew I wanted to own my own restaurant. I wanted to learn how to cook.

TH: What made you want to share your pizza tips with the world?
DR: Pizza is one of those things that people make at home, but it’s never quite as good as restaurant quality. But I think it is possible for people to do that in their own normal, standard oven.

TH: What went into the research?
DR: Pizza at its core is a flatbread with condiments baked onto it. I’ve probably been studying bread techniques since 2007. I study tomatoes. Like what makes a tomato taste delicious? It comes down to a few characteristics: sweetness, acidity, color, seed-and-skin ratio to the flesh, positive and negative flavor attributes. I’ve developed my own way of thinking about both the ingredients and the pizza as a whole. We’re able to teach people this very logical approach to pizza making

TH: Did you do a lot of experimenting while writing the cookbook?
DR: My entire career is based on experimenting. I went to Rutgers, so I didn’t go to culinary school, and I don’t have a traditional chef’s background. I created my own system for evaluating my progress and my own system for creating the pizza of my dreams. I started to study the science of it.

TH: It’s interesting that you describe pizza-making as a science.
DR: It’s split down the middle between science and practice. It’s a craft. I liken pizza-making to other skilled trades, like cabinetry. Cabinet makers have to understand the wood they’re using, the techniques for joining two pieces of wood together, how to make the cabinet, and then there’s also the artistry. You have to understand the science and the techniques of putting it together. Pizza-making is the same way. It’s a journey. You have to put time in to practice it. We have the ability to excel and grow and learn from that trial.

pizza dan richer

Richer’s new book, The Joy of Pizza, is out October 26

TH: How is The Joy of Pizza structured?
DR: First, we talk about ingredients—the raw materials and how to choose the right flour, how to choose the tomato, the cheese, etc. We talk a lot about these choices because your raw materials are everything.

The second section is on techniques. How to put the ingredients together, how to ferment your flour. Then it goes into recipes. It’s mostly pizza recipes and some condiments to accompany your pizza. It’s all aimed at the home cook and how to approach pizza.

TH: What’s the most important part of making a pizza?
DR: I don’t think there’s one specific thing. There are probably 30 steps in the process and each one is of equal importance. We really tried to outline the process and steps to make great pizza. We can all create something so completely different with similar products. There are infinite variations.

TH: There are opportunities for creativity.
DR: Yes! And it’s all about connectivity. There’s tons of people behind all of the ingredients. There’s somebody milking the cows to make mozzarella. I love meeting those people and connecting over something like that. They’re putting their effort into making their products, and we celebrate those relationships. At Razza, it’s our job to highlight those people when we put everything together.

TH: Was it difficult to organize your thoughts and condense years of experience?
DR: Yes. I decided I wanted to explore the idea of writing a book because I feel like I know a lot of people who make pizza in their homes, and it’s never quite at the quality level I know it could be. My first conversation was with [writer] Katie Parla, who lives in Rome. She’s a good friend of mine and a Jersey native. She’s written a bunch of cookbooks, so I just asked her what the process was like. One thing led to the next, and the book was bought by a publisher and Katie has been there from literally the first conversation.

TH: Did Katie add her own knowledge to the book?
DR: Yeah, this is definitely a collaborative book. She’s a fantastic book partner because she’s been through the process and is so highly educated. We have an extraordinary working relationship, where it just flows so smoothly. She’s done such a fantastic job of pulling all the information out of me.

TH: Lastly, what’s new at Razza?
DR: We’re expanding the restaurant! We took over the storefront directly next to us in December of 2019 hoping to open six months later, but the pandemic put a hold on everything. We’ll have twice the amount of seats and more than double the amount of kitchen space. It should be ready in a few months. With new equipment, our pizza is going to get substantially more delicious after the renovations.

Out October 26, “The Joy of Pizza: Everything You Need to Know” by Dan Richer and Katie Parla will be available on Amazon and at select bookstores. In the meantime, visit Richer at Razza, located at 275 Grove St. in Jersey City.

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