Greetings to All,
As Pete has posted, I've been lurking around this site for quite some time now and since I'm being mentioned, I think I should come out from the lurker mode to contribute to your lively discussions. This is the best amateur and semi-pro pizza site on the net. The level of attention to detail and passion is fantastic. As some of you may or may not know, I have been promoting the traditional methods and techniques of classic pizza for nearly 30 years. I learned how to make the original Lombardi formula from Gerry Lombardi and Jerry Pero (of Totonno's) in 1980 and have been the keeper of their legacy through the near extinction of that method and craft. That formula was very nearly lost, I saved it from oblivion because I was the only one around who cared about the honorable tradition and lost methods of how pizza was first made in the USA at the turn of the century. At the time, both Lombardi and Pero thought I was crazy to want to learn from them. They thought that they had come to the end of the line in terms of pizza and no one was interested in the kind of pizza they were producing. They thought that pizza was considered junk food and that the general consumer was no longer able to tell the difference between good pizza and bad.
The pizzeria owners that I interviewed at the same time, considered this handful of old-timers to be dinosaurs: their assessment was also that the general public couldn't tell the difference, so why not cut corners and turn a higher profit. They no longer looked at the old masters as the model, they looked to the mediocrity of the chains as the model. Pizza was in a sad state of affairs when I started to write The Pizza Book in the late 70's. I was pretty insulted by the fact that pizza operators thought that I--as a consumer--could not tell the difference between a good pizza and a bad pizza. At this point in the pizza industry, it was all about how to handle chemicals, additives, extenders and artificial fillers. The way they talked about producing pizza sounded like auto parts on an assembly line, not about food. This is what inspired me to write the book, because as a historian, I wanted to record the dying art for posterity and I wanted to distill the commercial information that I had garnered for home cooks because they were the only ones who were interested in using the quality of ingredient, and the hand craft necessary to produce pizza in the classic manner.
When I wrote The Pizza Book, I had enough of a difficult time to convince my publishers to allow for the first 75 pages of the book to be solid text, tracing the history, catagorizing the various styles and covering the ingredients and equipment for producing great pizza at home. The Pizza Book was the first book to define and catagorize the various American styles: New York, Chicago, California, New Haven and others. As a historian, who was taking a leave of absence from completing her final doctoral dissertation, I decided to research and write the history of pizza instead of my dissertation. Nearly all of the pizza books that have been written since freely borrow from my history and use my definitions and classifications. No one had ever taken a look at pizza across the USA and put it all together by breaking it up into regional styles as I had done.
I wanted to be far more detailed in regards to the ingredients, and especially with the flour, but my publishers insisted upon concentrating on what was available to the home cook, which was AP flour and bread flour, both of which varied greatly from region to region (and still do). There was a prejudice about pizza, no one wanted to take it too seriously, not my publishers, not the pizza industry and not the Italian Cultural Institute in New York City where I did a lot of research and where I came up upon some serious prejudice regarding Southern Italian culture and cuisine. Pizza was simply something they did not want anything to do with. Oh how things have changed in that respect.
After my book was published in 1984, I became the chef de cuisine at Pizzico Restaurant in NYC, and settled down to creating pizzas utilizing the Lombardi formula that I embraced. I made my own mozzarella every day, used authentic San Marzano tomatoes and hand-produced salumi and sausages as well as other esoterica. This was long before any mention of Artisan took place, but it was most certainly artisan.
Twenty years ago, I began to conduct seminars and write for Pizza Today because they thought that the pizza industry should know what I was doing. For nearly a decade, I was the only voice in the industry who called for the return to traditional hand methods and of extreme attention to the detail of the basic holy trinity of pizza ingredients: flour, tomatoes and cheese. I was the first to write about wood-burning ovens and to champion their use within the industry. Believe it or not, they were first thought of as a dumb piece of showy equipment that could not produce any kind of volume.
I met Tom Lehman at my first Pizza Expo in the mid-eighties and was very impressed with his dough knowledge, despite the fact that the recipe and methods he was teaching was loaded with enhancers, conditioners and additives as regular ingredients. It seems that Tom was equally as impressed with my seminars. Years later, when we became great friends, he shared with me that he had come to Pizzico and that the pizza he had, blew his mind: it was the best pizza he had ever eaten. He returned to AIB and tried to reverse engineer it, but could not. There were spys sent to check out the garbage for flour sacks, but no one could get the secret. I was aware that people were trying to get my recipe, but since I was the only one making the dough, and the formula wasn't written down, it would be pretty hard to find out.
You see, the Lombardi formula was lost to commercial pizza, no one within the industry had any kind history with this type of pizza, and they had no idea how to approach making it. A formula as short as mine with only 4 ingredients was unheard of. Time and labor were dirty words, and fermentation was something that was brought on with enhancers and dough conditioners. Long slow fermentation? Crust color, flavor and texture development without enhancers and conditioners? Fahgedaboutit. Tom was convinced that this type of authentic pizza was something that AIB should know about, so he invited me to teach at one of their first Pizza Technology seminars. I told him that I would have to take the course before I taught, so the first time, I was a student. The course rocked my pizza universe! It gave me the tools to understand all formulas and how to marry science and art. I gave Tom the New York formula that is still used at AIB today--and is the formula that you all refer to in this site as the Lehman formula. I brought traditional techniques and hand production to AIB. I've been teaching there on and off ever since. Tom and I have taught together for about 16 years now, and we still learn so much from each other because both of us are always trying to learn more.
Now that I am at PMQ, I will be writing a monthly column on artisan, hand techniques, who's doing it, the ingredient producers and equipment manufacturers--everyone involved in furthering the craft and tradition of pizza. I am also looking to bring serious amateurs and aspiring pros such as yourselves into the mix. In the future, I hope to open competitions and seminars to non-professionals as well, because I believe they are a vital part of the world of pizza. When I wrote The Pizza Book, it was geared to the home cook, little did I know that it would become the handbook for the revival of the craft of pizzamaking by the home cooks who bought it, and were inspired to go pro.
So, if you don't mind, I will continue to mostly lurk, but will come out from time to time to be of some help if I can--and most certainly add to the mix