Pizza So Good, He Broke The Oven
All Things Considered
August 2, 2009
Jeff Varasano's online pizza recipe reads more like a manifesto. In 22,000 words, he describes every facet of the craft: dough kneading techniques, choosing the right tomatoes, how to cultivate sourdough starters. The list goes on and on.
Varasano says he never intended to produce such a comprehensive piece of work. "It started with a posting I made to a Web site," he says, "recommending a certain electric mixer over another very popular one."
His post created an uproar on the message board. So did his instructions on how to preheat his oven.
"In order to properly bake a Neapolitan-style pizza, the most important aspect is heat — hot heat," Varasano says. Brick ovens across New York and Italy reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a conventional kitchen oven, powered by either electric or gas, will only reach 500 to 550 degrees.
Varasano came up with a solution. "I lopped off the safety lock using a pair of garden shears," he says with a laugh, "and I preheated my oven using the clean setting." He says using that method allowed him to get the perfect char on the pizza.
However, he says — in the strongest of terms — no one should try this. "I'm only saying what I've done, not what other people should do," he warns. "Please — no lawyers."
There's a lot that could go wrong. "Ask my repair guy," he jokes. "We're on a first-name basis."
He says a drop of sauce once touched the oven's glass window. The glass was so hot the cool drop of sauce caused it to explode. Another time, a clam he used for a pizza topping fell off the dough, ignited and burned a hole straight through the bottom of the oven. This list also goes on and on.
Varasano's passion for pizza didn't start in his native Bronx, where he feasted at places like Luzzo's and Patsy's. Instead, he got inspired to make his own pie once he moved to Atlanta for a job at a software company. The self-proclaimed "New York style" pizzerias angered Varasano. "They're complete shams," he says. "They're nothing like what you'd get in Manhattan or Brooklyn."
The piazzolo spent the next six years making close to 900 pizzas out of his Atlanta home. He tested 50 different types of tomatoes and the same number of olive oils. Varasano also traveled the world trying different types of flours.
Varasano celebrated by quitting his day job. In March, he opened Varasano's Pizzeria with acclaim by critics, local residents and, of course, former New Yorkers.