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March 2010 | The Psychology of Pizza

I just returned from a very interesting trip to New York City, where I was fortunate enough to participate as a judge for an international pizza making contest. While several of the pizzas were quite interesting (or at least unique), what I found most revealing were the comments of my fellow judges and the audience. It occurred to me that how someone responds to different variations of pizza may reveal quite a bit about a person.

Are you adventurous? Maybe you would like a kangaroo and emu pizza. Conservative? Go for the new York style cheese pie. Locked in to tradition? Only the pizza margherita will do.

What most surprised me is that a person's pizza preferences' didn't always match how they may perceive themselves. When it comes to pizza, the most liberal Massachusetts Democrat can suddenly turn into a neo-fascist and a world traveler can become absolutely provincial. I also found myself wondering how otherwise rational people can get so riled up about matters of taste that are clearly subjective.

It dawned on me that pizza is actually an edible Rorschach test. The next time you are with a group of friends give it a try. Put any kind of pizza in front of them, especially something that is outside their normal experience and listen to the comments. I'm betting they will reveal more about themselves during the course of the meal than they would while undergoing years of analysis, and they will enjoy it more too. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars for a 50 minute hour on the couch why not visit your local pizzeria instead?

Save money, have a great meal and examine your psyche at the same time. Pizza therapy for everyone!


December 2009 | Great Moments in Pizza History

3000 BC -Egyptians begin producing leavened bread and beer

332 BC- Alexander The Great conquers Egypt and spreads knowledge of controlled fermentation and bread baking to Greek colonies including southern Italy.

200 BC- Rome controls the Western Mediterranean becoming a hub for artisans and exotic foods from all over the known world.

C. 200-100 BC -Romans develop the domed brick oven and breads are seasoned with herbs, oils, spices and dried fish as a street food in the forerunner of the modern pizzeria

79 AD- Pompeii is destroyed resulting in the preservation of over 30 ovens that are the model for the Italian pizza oven of today.

C. 1095 -Returning crusaders bring the water buffalo to Italy.

1478- Turks invade Albania. Fleeing natives settle in Calabria bringing with them their savory stuffed Easter pies, the forerunner of the deep dish pizza

1500- Spain rules Naples and begins introducing plants and foods from its new world exploration.

C. 1600- Hungry Neapolitan begin eating the tomato brought from Peru, which was previously thought to be a poisonous ornamental plant.

C. 1780 -the tomato and mozzarella d'buffala are combined in southern Italian cooking.

1825- The Erie Canal opens in New York State, setting the stage for the north eastern U.S. to become the industrial center of the world and creating jobs that ultimately lure millions of Italian immigrants to our shores.

1861 -Garibaldi begins unification of Italy installing Victor Emanuel as King. Slowly the foods of Italy become less regionalized, as ideas and traditions are exchanged.

1889 -Raffaele Esposito is credited with combining cheese, tomato sauce and basil on a pizza as a tribute to Queen Margherita, wife of the newly crowned King Umberto. The cheese pizza as we know it is born.

1890 -The mass migration of southern Italians through Ellis Island begins, swelling the ranks of Italians in the U.S. from 4000 in 1850 to 4 million by 1920

1905- Gennaro Lombardi receives the first business license for a pizzeria in New York City.

1925- Frank Pepe opens his Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven Connecticut. In Neapolitan dialect he calls his amazing pies "ah-beetz". The white clam pizza is created.

1936- Delorenzo's in Trenton New Jersey opens. The 'tomato pie' is introduced to south Jersey and Philadelphia.

1943- Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell establish Pizzeria Uno in Chicago. Riccardo goes back to his Calabrian roots to develop the variation that becomes the famous deep dish pizza.

1947- Nick Perino a GI returning from Europe creates the now famous Chicago style thin crust pizza at the Home Run Inn.

C1950 -Pizza begins moving out of Italian neighborhoods and becomes a slice of mainstream American life.

1954- Shakeys Pizza is founded in California. The chain pizzeria concept begins.

1957-Celentano begins manufacturing frozen pizzas.

1960- Ed Carney opens the first Pizza Hut.

1960 -the Monaghan brothers open the first Dominoe's Pizza. Fast delivery becomes the primary goal of many pizza operators.

1980- With an emphasis on quality, Ed Ladou begins using fresh artisanal ingredients in creative combinations. California style pizza is born.

1983-1984 Gerry Durnell creates Pizza Today Magazine and Pizza Expo unifying a fragmented industry and beginning a new era of professionalism

1984 -The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana is created to establish and preserve the standards of "authentic" Neapolitan pizza.

1989- Barry O'Halloran wins the first pizza spinning championship at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas garnering an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

1990- Dolphis Boucher performs the first choreographed pizza spinning routine set to music and goes on to become the first 3 time winner of the World's Pizza Spinning Championship.

1994- Culinary mecca, Pizzeria Bianco opens in Phoenix Arizona. Not satisfied with simply recreating Neapolitan style pizza, founder Chris Bianco seeks to capture the spirit and philosophy of Italian chefs by using locally grown artisanal ingredients and staying true to his own vision of perfection. He becomes the first pizza maker to win a James Beard award.

1995 -Tony Gemignani begins his reign as the most award winning pizza maker in history, receiving recognition for both his acrobatic and culinary skill.

1996- Una Pizza Napoletana is founded. Owner Anthony Mangieri shuns the standards of the VPN as too lax, and begins baking pizzas using techniques that can be traced back to the Romans.

2008- Sam Facchini and John Arena develop and begin teaching the first university level pizza course at a four year university. The study of pizza as an important element of the hospitality industry is recognized.

The present- With outstanding dedication to their craft, the new breed of pizza makers such as Jonathon Goldsmith at Chicago's Spacca Napoli continue to, research, preserve and advance the techniques set in motion by the ancient Egyptian bakers over 3000 years ago."


September 2009 | The future is unwritten, but will be shaped by the next generation of committed pizza professionals.

It happens just about every time a group of pizza fanatics get together to share their favorite food. Somebody asks for "a pie with everything" and the purist in the bunch sniffs "that's not a pizza, the only true pizza is the pizza margherita"

Well, like all things Italian, the rules are let's just say, open to debate, usually really loud and often quite passionate debate. The truth goes back over 500 years and could give you a new insight regarding what is generally describes as a simple peasant dish.

During the renaissance, the rich were very rich and the poor could barely scrape by (sound familiar?) Fearful of revolution and encouraged by the church, laws were passed that were meant to discourage the wealthy from flaunting their excesses in front of the poorer classes. These "sumptuary laws" regulated everything from the color of clothing to the variety of foods that were served at a meal.

Of course the wealthy Florentines were not inclined to deny themselves the bounty of their Tuscan estates. Ever resourceful, they found an ingenious solution. Their chefs would line a thick black pan with a biscuit like dough, rich with butter or shortening, and fill the crust with all manner of local savory foods, such as wild boar sausage, cheese, wild mushrooms, truffles and olives.

If questioned by the authorities, the master of the house could innocently reply that he had broken no laws and his family was dining on a one course meal consisting merely of pie.

So, let's think about it, cheese, sausage, mushrooms and olives, baked in a biscuit like crust, sounds a lot like the pizza I ate in Chicago a few days ago, and a meal Lorenzo the Magnificent would recognize in an instant. Now that's a tradition that the self appointed pizza police would have a hard time arguing with.