Pizza in a Chef's Hands.
By Brad Nelson
Sunday, 24th May 2009
Though it is has been argued to have originated as a sauce and cheese topped Arabic bread, in food genealogy, pizza is pure Italian.

Purely a function of the proximity of perfect San Marzano tomatoes from the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, Buffalo Mozzarella from the marshlands of Campania and Lazio, and hard wheat flour, pizza was and still is a food of the everyday person. Since the 1940's, pizza has evolved to be a global food, and one of Italy's generous culinary contributions. I have had the pleasure of eating pizza in Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Venice, but not yet in Naples, the birthplace of Pizza Napoletana.

There are as many best pizza opinions as there are pizzas- just ask how a New Yorker feels about a Chicago deep dish or an aficionado's opinion regarding whether a true pizza can have pineapple on it. (For the record, Hawaiian pizza is not my style, but it must be to some because the big chains sure sell a lot of pineapple pies!)

It started with a few chefs taking the artisan approach to pizza, but is now on the verge of being the next casual upscale restaurant trend. Restaurants like Two Amy's in Washington DC, Mario Balati and Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza in LA, and Tom Douglas Serious Pie in Seattle all take pizza to a new level. I know of two big name chefs currently working on their own pizza concepts. With the burger now destination-worthy, pizza seems like the next logical food myth to rewrite. Pizza sounds simple, but there is a lot that goes into the perfect flour-yeast-salt-water-oil formula.

So who makes the best pizza? Oprah says it is Pizzeria Bianco (in Phoenix of all places). Pizzeria Bianco opened 5 years ago and has had a line at the door ever since. I finally made the quest last week, and yes, there was a 1 hour wait...at 9:45 PM. Inside this small brick building, with its sister wine bar next door built just for waiting diners, was a monolithic oven.

The oven, round and covered in brick, was filled with pizzas, each needing only 90 seconds to bake. Hot and wood fired, the pizzas escaped the oven ultra thin with crisp bubbles of crunchy crust. Only a few to choose from, but other bar diners recommended these as the best:

  • Margherita - The classic with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil
  • Biancoverde - mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, arugula
  • Wiseguy - roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage.
I ordered the Margherita, figuring that the original pizza was probably the best judge of the craftsman's skill. Speaking of the craftsman, Chris Bianco is the owner of Pizzeria Bianco and his care of how each pizza is topped and baked are one reason his pizza's are so fantastic

The sauce was tart, fresh tomato and the cheese a clean tasting fresh mozzarella. Though the middle was a bit floppy, this truly was a great pie. I am a believer now in Pizzeria Bianco. Organic ingredients, dough that is rumored to take 34 hours to develop, and a true pizza master is what makes this place special. Oh, and the oven is pretty cool too.

What's on YOUR plate today?

Brad Nelson is the vice president culinary and corporate chef of Marriott International, he has worked to build an international culinary team that continues to raise the bar in dining. He takes his respect for nature's simple, clean flavors and instill it into the philosophy of the numerous kitchens he oversees.

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