Just got back from a Pizza trip to Az. Unfortunately I didn't get to eat at Bianco's but I did get to meet Chris. I'll likely make a trip back out there when they aren't on vacation.
Here's a brief write up..
Some poor planning on my end had me making a visit to Bianco’s in the middle of his annual vacation. Every year they take some time off and this year it happened to coincide with my Pizza trip to AZ. I had miss that very important detail from his website and had planned on being in AZ this weekend to meet a friend who was visiting at the same time. My trip to Az would include a visit to Bianco’s, and 2 other pizzerias.
One of my wishful hopes for this trip besides tasting Chris’ pizza is to be able to talk to him about pizza. I had read in this thread that Chris’ brother said that they get calls daily from people wanting to talk to Chris about pizza. Knowing this, I really didn’t want to be one of those people and try to seek out an interview with Chris. That being the case, I had not prepared a list of questions to even ask Chris. Besides, what questions would I really ask that hasn’t already been asked/discussed on the forum? Would I just ask Chris for his secret formula or what flour he uses? Of course not. I knew better than that. After reading numerous posts about Chris and his philosophy concerning pizza, it is apparent to me Chris isn’t about secrets or recipes.
On this day, I had planned on showing up early at 330p for a 5pm opening so that we could be one of the first to be seated. After realizing that I wasn’t going to be eating at Bianco’s this evening, my friend and I started making plans to visit another pizzeria in the area, we notice a couple of Hispanic guys had just arrived and were waiting in front of the pizzeria. My friend suggested that we go take a look at Chris’s oven through the window since we were there. When we walked up, one of the guys informed us that they were closed and on vacation. So I asked myself “who are these guys and why are they hanging out at Bianco’s when the place was closed”? Well it turns out, that one of the guys there was Horracio and he said that he was their pizzaiolo. We chatted for about 10mins about Chris and Horrachio’s work there at the restaurant. I asked specifically if Chris was still making pizza or not on account of his asthma. Horracio said that he himself had been working the oven for the last 2 years. I don’t know if this means that he has been working the oven exclusively the last 2 years or Chris is still baking part time. Horrachio said that he had worked for Chris for 14years. During the course of our brief conversation, he said Chris will be stopping by in the next 15-20min if I wanted to hang out and meet him.
So as fate would have it, I hung around and got to chat pizza with Chris afterall. When Chris had arrived to pick up some mail, Horrachio told him we had come in to town just to visit Bianco’s. Chris was apologetic and said he would speak with us for a minute if we wanted.
He has a unique approach to pizza which was very apparent during his brief talk with my friend and I. He spent the majority of the 20mins talking and we listened intently. My friend and I asked a few questions and he happily addressed them. Here are several things I picked up during his brief talk about pizza. (Comments in parentheses added by me).
-His style of pizza is definitely a variation of an elite NY style. He said it is like a Naples style pizza except it is baked at a lower temp and baked about a minute longer (this would place Chris in the 3min-ish realm). He said he likes his crust with a bit more crisp than a traditional NP style. He also said that he likes a lighter crumb than what he had in Naples. I asked how his pizza was different from the other elite NY pizza’s (Di fara’s, Grimaldi’s, Patsy’s, etc) and he said it is basically the oven. Theirs is done with coal fired ovens (or deck ovens) and his is wood fired. He said when you change out the oven (cooking environment) you get a slighty different pizza. He said once you can make great pizza, there are just slight differences/variations between them. Not that one is better than another. You may like this place more than another because of the toppings, or atmosphere, etc.
-Perfection: He said plainly and clearly that there is no perfection. We strive to make the best pizza we can that we enjoy. After that there are just nuisances about one pizza (place) or the other. He said you can make a great pizza by simply using the best ingredients. That’s what separates him from others. He said “I can cut the arugula at 4pm and you can’t get a fresher taste at 530pm”.
-Commercial pizza vs home baked pizza: He said in a commercial setting it’s more challenging to bake many pizzas a night. When the dough is ready it’s ready to use now, not an hour from now. He said he believe when you make 1-2 pies at home, you can do a better job b/c you can spend more time and give more detail to just 2 pizzas. (Of course provided that you also have the same oven at home).
-Hand kneading vs Mixer: Why hand knead? He said when he started he couldn’t afford a spiral mixer so he had to do it by hand. Then later when he could afford one, he changed his idea about using a mixer. He now has a mixer he uses to make bread, but for pizza he does it by hand b/c it’s traditional. He said not one is better than the other and he can make the same product using either or. He just prefers it done by hand b/c it has meaning.
-Flour: He said he did(n’t) favor North American flours. Sorry, I heard “did not” and my friend heard “did”. He said there are lots of (old world) flours in Italy that are much better than even Caputo. He said NP is a good pizza but that he likes a different kind of texture than what caputo gives. He mentioned old world flours. He also mentioned something about taking a trip or planning a trip to Italy in the future.
-Dough: this has been posted before but he uses a combination of old dough, “almost like a biga” were his word and fresh yeast. He also cold ferments his dough but didn’t say how long. His brother makes all the dough. (I suspect that the dough is made early in the morning and cold ferment for the day until that evening. To be technically correct, an old dough would be a Pate Fermentee).
-Ingredients: Also posted before, Chris says to make great pizza you have to have a great crust combined with the best ingredients and you have a great pizza. He said you can’t make something great out of mediocre or subpar ingredients. He really stressed this point 2-3x. You can’t make a great pizza from ingredients you buy at Costco. ( Lol, Chris is a funny guy ). As posted before, he gets his OO locally, makes his own mozzarella, grows his own herbs, etc. The emphasis again here is fresh and finest ingredients you can get locally. Water – being from NM myself, he said he had worked in Sante Fe for a couple of years and he remembered the water had a lot of calcium in it. He advised me to use water made by “reverse osmosis”.
That is all I can recall of his brief lecture on Pizza. I was really pleased to have had an opportunity to meet Chris and chat a bit with him. Chris was very gracious and inviting. Even though he was in hurry he was happy to take time out and chat with yet another pizza fan. Walking away from our conversation, I couldn’t help to think of how many of these conversations he’s had with like minded folks over the years. Either way, I was pleased to be able to meet the man.
I walked away satisfied despite not getting to eat at Chris’. Perhaps another day…