May 27, 2014 |

Respect to the Pizzaiolo

By Denise Greer

smores pizza over camfire

I managed to apply some creativity to our last campfire pizza, a smores pie — buttered and sugar sprinkled crust, crushed chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallow, and finished with honey drizzle.

I spent my Memorial Day weekend primitive style, camping with my entire family in Hoosier National Forest. I wanted to do something special for them and also take some of the knowledge that I have gained through our pizza visits, in the Pizza Today test kitchen and through the study of our Dough Doctor Tom Lehmann and just see if I could make good pizza over a campfire.

With six dough balls, mozzarella (and I added some Asiago for a little something extra), red sauce and various other toppings for my picky crew, I set out to make my family pizza over an open fire.

I analyzed the challenges of this undertaking and devised a dome from an aluminum pan and used my trusty cast-iron skillet for baking. I allowed the dough to rest at air temperature (73 F) while I stoked the fire until red and white embers glowed in the fire pit. Each pie was made individually due to space and my slow-paced pizza-making skills.

After stretching dough, I par-baked it before applying my toppings, and then cooked each pizza. It was a grueling process of singeing eyebrows and arms as I worked my “oven.” I rotated each pizza several times in my makeshift dome to get an even crust. I must say, a few had a pretty severe char so I tried to adapt and shift my embers around when a spot became too hot. I wanted each crust to have that perfect balance of crispy and chewy characteristics.

An hour and a half later, all six pizzas were made and devoured. Yes, it took me that long to assemble and cook six pizzas individually, definitely not a pizzeria pace. But I’m proud that I didn’t ruin a single dough ball and have to trash it. I had a lot of fun, my family enjoyed it and I had an opportunity to think on my feet and make it work.

This is what pizzaiolos, stick men, line cooks, pizza chefs, or whatever you call these vital employees do day-in and day-out. As a pizzeria operator, you’ve created a formula to produce the best quality pizza and it’s up to your kitchen crew to execute that process for each pie that comes out of the oven.

But then the variables come into play, that’s when a pizzaiolo really shines. They are your front line defense in maintaining your pizza standards. Beyond pizza-making skills, there are few other qualities to look for in a pizzaiolo — ingenuity, creativity and problem solving. These skills could pay off in major ways for your pizzeria operation. They can reinvigorate your menu, create time-saving procedures, adapt if equipment goes on the fritz and react when baking conditions change.

Do more than hire for those qualities, encourage them in your kitchen and watch your pizzaiolo thrive in that environment.