Area Four and A4 Pizza chef and partner Jeff Pond could talk about pizza ovens and dough forever. For Pizza Week 2014, he chatted with Eater one morning at A4 about a wide variety of pizza-related topics, pausing occasionally to stoke the flames in the oven. Here, learn about the importance of caring about dough, why there will be a pizza called "not pepperoni" on the menu, and more. Also, keep an eye out for his input in various installments of the Pizza Week survey series, from the definition of pizza to ovens (coming later today) and beyond.
During Pizza Week 2012, you talked about your ten-year-old sourdough starter that has traveled with you from restaurant to restaurant. Is that still what you're using here?
Yep, we still use the same dough. I had done bread for a long time, so I knew what it was going to take to make a really good bread, and I like the sourdough because it adds complexity. We ferment for a really long time — 36 hours, at least, before it hits the table. So before you actually eat pizza, it's two days prior to that that we're making dough. It's that length of time that allows the dough to develop. Starches break down; your complex carbohydrates start to develop flavor.
For me, a good bread is the development of that caramelization on the outside. I think we push the limits here; we definitely take it to a darker level, and part of that is just my belief in that a better-tasting bread is a bread where the sugars have been developed, and you have the right oven to caramelize the sugars. You get it so you taste some of the sweetness of the flour, some of the caramelization from the oven, and a little bit of the malt that's in the flour we use.
As far as everything else goes, we also make it all. The idea of being able to control every element — it's expensive to do, and it doesn't mean that every pizza is going to be absolutely perfect — but at least it gives you an opportunity to come close. And perfection — I mean, what's that mean, right? I just want it to be really good and for everybody to enjoy it.
What's your best-selling pizza?
The margherita sells really well, which we've changed a bit, and the soppressata sells really well, but I get a lot of crap for it from people who are really attached to their pepperoni. I've gotten two things with the soppressata, which is popular in Cambridge, too. Either they thought it was pepperoni, or so many people think it's some type of vegetable. Then they get it, and if you're a vegetarian and you get something with meat on it, you're just like, Oh my God. What are you doing to me? We're going to change the heading to just call it "not pepperoni" because I don't know what else to do.
Do you get many bizarre requests?
We do. I'm happy to do anything you want, but if you get it and you don't like it, I'm sorry. If it's really odd...well. We also get a lot less allergies in Somerville than in Cambridge. It's amazing. Not just a little bit. I'm talking a drastic difference. I rarely get an allergy request in this restaurant, and I get so many in Cambridge. While I do obviously have to respect the requests, there are plenty of times when I'm like, There's no way that's an allergy. It's a preference. Either way, whether it's a preference or an allergy, I respect it, but I think there's scar tissue — people feel like when they go out to eat, the only way they're going to get what they want is if they scare somebody. We also get gluten-free requests, but I don't go down that road because I can't cook it on the same oven floor. I could cook it in a pan...but it's a totally different animal. You're talking about Chicago-style deep dish pizza versus what we do.
Do you ever eat any other pizzas around town?
I don't often, only because I'm here six days a week, so I don't get the opportunity. Recently I went to Max & Leo's in Newton. They're coal-fired; it's a little hole in the wall. Coal-fired is intriguing to me because I grew up around it. And there's Picco — he's a baker by trade. Most of the guys out there whose pizzas I like, they're bakers. When I look around the country and think who's out there that's really doing what I want to do, it's guys that have had a baking past.
So it all does come back to the dough.
It does. It totally does. Anybody could just buy any old crust and make some really cool toppings to put on top of it. But it's the guys that care that are taking it a step further, worrying about what that dough is doing. And it's about that fermentation time.
Anyone can come in and take yeast...this is why I kind of have a little bit of a problem with today's Neapolitan movement. And I don't mean that in a pompous way; I mean that from a consumer standpoint. I feel like a lot of people out there today are just taking some course or training themselves in some fashion to just come in, take some yeast, take some flour — buy the right flour that's imported, and you're paying 36 dollars, 40 dollars a bag for it. And you're not thinking about it. You're like, Ok, I gotta buy this flour, I gotta buy this cheese — or make this cheese this way — and I put it all together, I shape it up, and I can call myself a traditional Neapolitan pizza shop. It just kind of discredits it for me a little bit. As a consumer, I feel like anyone can just open a shop and call themselves traditional Neapolitan pizza, and what makes it any better than the guy down the street? So it's interesting for me on that level.
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