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Master Pizzamakers: Juan Ventura of Ernesto's Pizza

Photo: Cal Bingham

Juan Ventura makes pizza at one of the best known pizzerias in one of the most iconic pizza neighborhoods in the country. He has the longest tenure of any of the pizza makers at Ernesto's Pizza on Salem Street in the North End, which has been around for over twenty years and has nearly as many varieties of pizza. Eater spoke with Ventura about what makes a great pizza and why the crowds flock to Ernesto's to gobble up his pies.

How long have you been at Ernesto's? Like thirteen years.

What's your title? We do a little bit of everything, but we have two other people, and I've been here the longest, so I know how to do everything, you know what I mean? And I learned it here, too. I didn't go anywhere else to learn.

Did you know how to make pizza before you came to Ernesto's? No. I started working here doing prep, cleaning up, being a dishwasher, stuff like that, but a couple weeks later, I started making pizza.

How do you make the dough? We have a little room with a mixer machine, so we just add water, yeast, oil, sugar and salt. The machine carries about 60 pounds, so we do a whole bag every time we use it.

What about the sauce? The sauce is nothing special. I think the flavor is in the dough. The secret is in there.

And the cheese? It's a good cheese, a whole milk cheese. We buy the blocks and shred it here.

What kind of oven? It's electric. We put the pizza in there and cook it in about six minutes. You put the pizza in one side and it comes out the other side. It's new.

What did you have before? It was electric too, but a different one. You had to check the pizza all the time in the old one. You had to keep an eye on it.

So what makes a good pizza? That's what I told you! The secret's in the dough.

You're pretty famous for your pizza - is it hard to live up to that? I think all the people come here because they like how many different kinds we have, and because we have crazy pizzas, too.

Like what? We have one that's very popular with Ranch dressing, tomatoes, onions, bacon and chicken. We call it a Chicken Ranch. We do another with chicken, potatoes and banana peppers, too: people love that kind of pizza. We make Buffalo chicken, we made another with chicken, ricotta and pepperoni. I think people like things like that, you know what I mean?

What's the most popular? Right now, the Chicken Ranch.

More than the regular? Cheese is one of the most popular. Everyone likes cheese, but after that, it's the Chicken Ranch. We sell a lot, it depends on the weather, too.

What kind of weather sells more pizza? Hot. Like summer time.

What's the hardest part of making pizza? You know what, it's not hard to make pizza when you have a nice dough. After you have a nice dough, it's easy to make a pizza. But if the dough is all messed up, you're going to get trouble.

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Ernesto's Pizza

69 Salem Street, Boston, MA