Author Topic: The Reinhart Dialog  (Read 13340 times)

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The Reinhart Dialog
« on: August 13, 2012, 09:33:42 AM »
After a cyberharasser posted my recent comments, out of context, about Peter Reinhart on Peter's blog, Peter, surprisingly, and extremely graciously, reached out to me to initiate a dialog.

For anyone that's interested in following the conversation, here's what started it all off:


Here's the out of context comment:


And here's Peter's blog entry inviting me (and others) to discuss it further:


The harasser also took a swipe at Mike (Pappy), so he's participating in the discussion as well. If anyone wishes to join the discussion, feel free chime in, but, please, keep it civil.

I'm also re-posting my comments, for the sake of posterity and easier legibility here. To avoid confusion, my comments will be in italics. If you're an active member, you've probably heard me say a lot of this stuff already, on multiple occasions, but for new people, I think there's information here that they might find interesting.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2012, 09:49:09 AM by scott123 »


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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2012, 09:46:12 AM »
First of all, let me be crystal clear, you [Peter] are obviously not an idiot. Anyone who's read your books (and we all have) knows that you are a tremendous storyteller and an incredibly talented writer- probably one of the top ten food writers ever. I know that Mike (Pappy) has some issues with Apprentice, but I've found your long fermentation advocacy to be a game changer for bakers- both at home and in the professional arena. You weren't the first person to talk about long fermentation, but your voice carried the furthest, and, for that, history will remember you very fondly.

When you look at my comment in context, the 'idiocy' I'm referring to relates to furthering pizzamaking knowledge. It's still a harsh thing to say, but I feel very strongly about American Pie's negative impact on pizzamaking and bastardization of NY culture. I'm not going to sugarcoat it Peter, I'm angry- and I've been angry for a while. This all dates back to a tourretic fit I experienced while reading AP at a Borders bookstore in the fall of 2003. I was shouting expletives then and have been ever since (don't worry, I won't be shouting any here).

I have to give you a tremendous amount of credit for, after reading my out of context quote, reaching out to initiate this dialog. I am more than happy to discuss these topics with you. Since you are being so gracious about this, I want to formulate my criticism to be as constructive and respectful as possible. I have about a book's worth of information in my head, which I could spew out in one long, fairly comprehensible stream of consciousness, but I don't think that would serve this discussion. I've got an outline done, and, in a day or so, will be ready to start presenting my gathered thoughts.


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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2012, 09:47:18 AM »
First, a little background. It is only by looking back at the history of pizza in my region that you can understand the depths of my passion and zealotry.

We begin our story with a world at war.  After Allied forces invade Sicily and later the mainland, the ensuing occupation exposes these young men to Italian culture and food. When these GIs return home, they seek out these Italian foods, one of which was pizza. It's not a coincidence that the first deck pizza oven dates back to 1945.  Soldiers came home, demand for pizza increased and oven manufacturers, seeing the opportunity, jumped into action. They beat their swords into plowshares- plowshares, that, rather than plant wheat, via American engineering brilliance, transformed wheat into righteousness.

Since these first deck ovens were competing with coal and wood ovens, it only makes sense that they had plenty of chutzpah. Carbon footprints? Carbon shmootprints. These were not the timid ovens of today. These fire breathing behemoths provided the traditional coal pizza bakers of that age an entirely new feature- consistency.  And, of course, ease. They combined the superior high heat/fast bake times of coal with the reliability of gas. This was a quantum leap in pizzamaking, and from these ashes, the greatest food on the planet was born. It took a few decades to completely win over every heart, but, by the 70s, there was a pizzeria on just about every corner in NYC- and life couldn't get any better.

The vintage NY slice was/is manna from heaven. No other food in the world has potentially wider appeal.  Chicken Tikka Masala can charm the pants off of Britain and salsa can outsell ketchup here in the U.S., but pizza speaks to every culture. Even historically, dairy-adverse Asians are now beginning to see the light.

If you look at my mid 80s high school yearbook, under every picture, it will say 'Favorite Food: Pizza.'  Every single graduate in a 500 student class. And this wasn't just my high school. This was every high school in the NY area.  This 1975-1995 slice was revered by young and old, of every ethnicity.  This is the slice that defined the NY brand that hundreds of thousands of pizzerias across the nation and world attempt to emulate (and almost always fail). The archetype. It's what at least 15 million New Yorkers (past and present) will picture in their minds when asked about pizza. It was (and is) the greatest food in the world from the greatest city in the world. Okay, okay, I'm a little biased (but not much).

Neapolitan can be wonderful, and coal style (Patsy's, Lombardi's, Grimaldi's etc.) has a huge place in history, but the NY slice is sacred.  It was as if God was sitting around sometime after WWII and said, well, you've got something great, but I'm going to give you something that will blow your mind. I'm going to give you the single food, that, even when it's done piss poorly, it still tastes pretty good.

For at least two decades, all New Yorkers were completely enveloped in this rapture. We were pigs in poop.  Grins from ear to ear. We never dreamed, in a million years, that something so treasured, so revered, would ever cease to be. It would be like the end of chocolate. Can you imagine, waking up one day, and there being no more chocolate? Of course not! We laughed at the chains when they started popping up. But, then, maybe out of curiosity, ignorance, a susceptibility to marketing, or perhaps all three, the chains started doing better. The fall from grace had commenced. The snake was in the garden and Adam was destined to eat dirt.

None of this happened overnight.  The transition was just slow enough for the majority of people to be completely oblivious. Owner by owner would see the business that the chains were doing and say to themselves, "Hey, if people are paying good money for this garbage, why am I spending so much on the fuel it takes for hotter ovens/faster bakes? Why am I spending the extra cash to hire skilled stretchers?"  Slowly but surely, the ovens were turned down, the unskilled teenagers replaced the crusty old pizzaiolos, and the bake times were increased.  Goodbye, puffy rims. So long, oven spring.  See ya later, thin, hard to stretch crusts.  Great pizza, farewell.

At least, farewell to 99.99% of the great slices.  There are a handful of holdouts that have managed to beat the odds and endure the test of time.  Earlier this year I manage to catch the normally quite cranky co-owner of Pizza Town (circa 1958), Michele Tomo, in a chatty mood.

Michele Tomo:  We have a second location down in Ocean Grove.
Scott123: Really? 2 locations? That's great.
MT: Yes, we used to have 5 locations.
s123: 5?!? What happened?
MT: They closed down.
s123: Why?
MT: They cut corners.  The pizza wasn't as good.
s123: Really.  What kind of corners?
MT (with a proud glint in her eye): You know, corners.

If you read between the classic pizzeria owner evasiveness, you'll see that she's talking about the other locations doing the same oven temp lowering dance that thousands of other pizzerias have succumbed to. She's not going to tell you the secret to her success (a 4 minute bake), but the glint in her eye tells you how proud she is that all of these thousands of nitwit owners thought that they were smart enough to save a nickel here and there, but she didn't fall for any of that garbage.  Not for a second- and she's secretly smiling all the way to the bank.  Pizza Town is in an area with plenty of pizzerias, it's basically Sopranoville- and, while the other joints are pretty much ghost towns, Michele, during her slowest times, is selling about a pizza a minute:

Pizza Town, unfortunately is just one of a handful of oases in a desert of mediocrity.  I don't see a lot of young faces behind the counter ready to take up the banner once the Tomo siblings retire.  Once they go, what's left?  New Park Pizzeria, in Brooklyn, sells a very respectable pre-95 slice. There may be a couple of dark horses out there that haven't yet entered the spotlight, but other than those, the situation is dire.

Ed Levine paints a very bleak, yet truthful picture with this recent article on Slice


Adam Kuban, founder of Slice (and NY pizza aficionado extraordinare), hits the nail directly on the head in the comment section:

"there is a whole generation of New Yorkers growing up without the taste-memory of what great pizza is."

This is the state of NY style pizza today, and, for those that cherish NY culture, it's enough to make you cry.

There's a small group of online obsessives fighting to preserve this sacred manna for future generations, both in homes and in pizzerias, but they're battling a tsunami of misinformation and apathy.

What misinformation, you might ask? Well, that's something we'll talk about tomorrow. Stay tuned :)

Offline Jet_deck

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2012, 10:35:02 AM »
I really enjoyed the read, Scott.  All good stuff.  You should write a book, or have you?
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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2012, 11:20:29 AM »
Thanks, Gene. No book yet, but maybe one eventually.


Offline Mad_Ernie

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2012, 11:26:28 AM »
I just became aware of the Reinhart blog dialog and am following it with interest.  Looking forward to further posts from all parties.  Thanks for taking up Peter Reinhart's offer for the exchange, Scott.

Let them eat pizza.

Offline Ev

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2012, 02:02:20 PM »
You definitely have some good writing skills Scott. You're very good at putting your thoughts into words. Something I've always been terrible at. Looking forward to the continuing dialog.
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Offline Chicago Bob

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2012, 02:16:49 PM »
Beautiful, passionate, informative....very nice sir.
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Offline Aimless Ryan

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2012, 02:16:57 PM »
Man, I spend so much time reading these boards, I don't know if I want to read his blog and comments, too. Let me know if it ever gets real interesting over there.

Disclaimer: Don't necessarily believe anything I say here. My brain ain't quite right anymore (unless it is). If I come off as rude or argumentative, that's probably not my intention. Rather, that's just me being honest, to myself and everyone else; partly because I don't have enough time left to BS either you or myself. If you are offended by anything I say, it's probably because you think lying to people (to be "polite") is a good idea. I don't.

Offline eiram21

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2012, 07:33:53 PM »
Very interesting read, Scott. I have to agree, you are very good at expressing yourself. I look forward to hearing more.

When most people are used to canned raviolis, the homemade ones taste weird - you know what I mean? Sad.

I lived in Michigan for 2 years...suburb of Ann Arbor. There was NOT one good pizza place, although the Detroit style pizza (Buddy's Pizza) was a decent "homestyle", still far from NY pizza. Most people don't know what they've been missing, and that's the frustrating part! They just don't get it.

It was interesting to read what caused the changes, although not surprising. Everything seems to come down to the mighty dollar in the business world, eh?


Offline slybarman

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2012, 09:07:02 PM »
Yeah. Good read. It would have held my interest for quite a few more pages.

I went to high school on east 77th from 1983 to 1987. I go back to visit and I agree that it is harder than it used to be to find a good slice.

Neopolitan seems to be the new (old) wave. More and more neopolitan joints opening up. Good, but different.

Offline Tscarborough

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2012, 09:11:45 PM »
I think it has less to do with economics of food cost than it does to do with ease of production.  As Scot says, once the old crowd of persons who considered pizza making a career were gone, the necessity of simple methods of producing dough and sauce lead to the decline.  In the restaurant industry, quality will generally win over cost to a point.  The market share might shrink, but the profits will be stable or rise.  He may be right about the temperatures of the ovens, but if anything that would be manufacturer driven, as the cost between running an oven at 600 VS 750-800 is minimal.  The commercial ovens I have seen in use will not reach those temperatures regardless of what you want them to do.

Very nice commentary, and I am glad you guys came together on it Scott.


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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2012, 09:23:02 PM »
That quote from Adam Kuban is dead right. Part of the problem with NY/NJ pizza is an overwhelming apathy. I have friends who live in NJ, growing up not more than half an hour from Pizza Town who'd never even been to the place til about a year ago.

Offline Chicago Bob

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2012, 09:44:28 PM »
He may be right about the temperatures of the ovens, but if anything that would be manufacturer driven, as the cost between running an oven at 600 VS 750-800 is minimal.  The commercial ovens I have seen in use will not reach those temperatures regardless of what you want them to do.

This sounds to me like it may be a very key point. What was it...1976 when the phony "oil embargo" hit and the decline of American steel and other manufacturing jobs/products began it's quick descent? "Value" became a word of the past as everyone scrambled to figure out what the heck to do next....
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Offline tAdavis

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2012, 11:53:31 AM »

Like others, I'm really enjoying the dialog between yourself and Peter. I was fortunate enough to take a pizza making class from him a few years ago at his Charlotte spot, Pie Town, and I'm not surprised at his graciousness. He seems like a genuinely good guy.

As for your input on the NY style, I'm very intrigued. I was raised in Atlanta - historically a desert for quality pizza - and didn't have any exposure to good pizza until my first neapolitan experience about 4 years ago. Since then, that's been my benchmark, and has driven me to intense at home experimentation, a stint working in the neapolitan pizzeria which I first saw the light, and finally installation of a home wood-fired oven to replicate the pies at home.

All that being said, I have ZERO knowledge of the NY style you speak of. When I visited NYC last summer, my eye was trained on the neapolitan joints, and I didn't even consider visiting a slice joint. Partly caught up in the hype (and no doubt corresponding quality of many of the joints), but also partly due to ignorance. I look forward to following the dialog further, but do you perhaps have any posts or threads on this forum that you could point me to to get started in my own home pizzamaking efforts for creating the type of pizza that you're so passionate about?

I apologize if they already exist or have been pointed out... I've been absent from the forum for a few months, and I'm a little rusty working my way around :)

Thanks in advance, and I look forward to reading more.



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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2012, 04:12:21 AM »
Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments.

Here's the next and final installment.  Ryan, sorry, no cliff notes  :-D

Did I say tomorrow?  :) Peter, you completely knocked the wind out of my sails with your unbelievably kind words. How was I going to find the anger to compose this if all I could muster was a feeling of warmth and fuzziness? Crikey, why do you have to be such a nice guy?  ;D That's a tremendous compliment, as I do aspire towards being 'Bourdainian,' and, for that matter, Trillinian, Steingartenian and Reinhartian. These are all people that I look up to- I would kill for a 10th of any of your writing abilities.

At this point, I’d like to shake your hand, share a slice, maybe one of my own slices (lots of love has gone into these ;) ) and talk pizza, but… alas, I’ve made allegations that misinformation was spread, that culture was damaged, so I can’t back away from this. So, without further ado…. Here goes.

Hari Reinhart Hari Krishna

With the massive popularity of The Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA), you established yourself as more than just a guy that loves bread and posts a few recipes.  You established yourself as a baking guru.  A teacher's teacher.  If American Pie was just the highly entertaining musings of a pizza loving adventurer, which I think the expository portion of the book plays out, in a large part, to be, then I would be your biggest cheerleader.  Travel the world, eat lots of pizza, write about it in your indubitable style - that's a book worth celebrating.  But, combine the previously attained guru status and a recipe section and you've got something with immense, culture defining, home pizza maker influencing power.

"With great power comes great responsibility" Voltaire (and Uncle Ben in the comic Spiderman).

If you're writing a book that will not only be read by hundreds of thousands of people, but will also, for most of these readers, define a national cultural treasure, you have an obligation to do your homework.

The word of the day is ‘expectations.’ You’re going to hear me mention this quite a lot in this tome, because it’s the fuel that feeds my fire. When I cracked open American Pie, I fully expected it to do for pizza what BBA did for bread. We’re those expectations lofty? Absolutely.  Were they unrealistic?  Maybe.  But BBA set a precedent.  It’s impossible to observe American Pie without a BBA lens.

With Friends like These

When you were in Paris researching BBA, did you spend a lot of time at the Louvre? How about the Eiffel Tower? You weren’t a tourist, Peter.  In no way did BBA define you as a beaten path kind of guy.  Your trip to NY, though, was textbook obvious. If you could have found Phillippe Gosselin, you could have stumbled across Michele Tomo.
From American Pie:

“The Ray’s on Eighth Avenue, between Fifty-fifth and Fifty-sixth, had a better crust than either the Ray’s on Seventh Avenue or the one on Broadway, but my sense was that this is a day-to-day thing, based on the skill of the pizza maker at work. All the pizzas could be labeled as “in the Ray’s mode,” and anyone in need of a quick slice—except Joel, Howie, and Quinn, of course—should feel confident that his or her craving would be adequately sated by a stop in any Ray’s.”

Just stick the knife in my back!  ;D As far as I’m concerned, this statement is analogous to Pete Rose betting on baseball.  When the time comes to vote you into the Pizza Hall of Fame, this is the evidence I will be presenting. I know all your NY buddies gave you dirty looks for thinking about going to midtown Rays, but if they didn't physically restrain you, they deserved to be walked to the Hudson and sent adrift in a boat.
Seriously, though, you know the old cliche about not saying anything if you don’t have anything nice to say? Well, that kind of pleasantry has no place in NY pizza.  Discussing the venerated slice without at least trying to be a little Bourdainian- to me, that’s sacrilege in itself. Ray’s is pure evil- probably more evil, in my mind, than Dominos. Dominos did their damage out in the ‘burbs.  Ray’s is right smack dab in the middle of Mecca, doing the pizza equivalent of relieving themselves on the Kaaba. Complete and utter contempt for non Prince st. Ray’s is the cornerstone of NY style pizza.

As far as your other stops go… well, DiFara is a wonderful theme park for tourists seeking the NY pizza experience, but it's far from the best NY has to offer.  With it's vintage oven, it has respectable bake times, but the 1-2 hour fermentation isn't sufficient to get any flavor from the wheat.  NY pizza guys aren't famous for their knowledge of dough science, but 1-2 hours is ridiculous.
Prince St. Ray's (now no longer) was/is a little like Joe's.  It was respectable. Better than most of what you find in the area, but still a very much defiled post 1995 pie. Joe's especially.  I wouldn't call Joe's a shell of what it once was, but those pies in the 90s would send my heart soaring.

Bottom line, I sincerely believe you talked to the wrong people. Instead of conversing with intelligent peers that say 'these' and 'those' you should have ventured into the NY’s underbelly and sought out those that say 'dese' and 'dose.'  Dose are the people that would have smacked you upside the head for even thinking about going to a midtown Rays. Dose are the people that would tell you that pizza just ain’t what it use to be.
There's this knee jerk propensity, when, someone harkens back to the 'good old days,' to dismiss it as life being better when you're young.  Life is generally better when you're young, but that doesn't necessarily mean that sometimes when people reference the 'good old days,' those days weren't actually better. Other than Joe's and Ray's on Prince, Manhattan has pretty much always been a pizza wasteland, so I can't really predict what your average Manhattanite might have told you back in 2003, but I'd bet you that 50 out of 100 older Brooklynites or New Jerseyans would be screaming just as loud as I am about the then state of the slice.  There was a story there. A story that your hundreds of thousands of readers needed to hear. A story staring you dead in the face with your Mama's pizza experience.
‘Mama’ Mia

Much like New Haven coal style is really not that different from NY coal, Philadelphia, other than the occasional decision to go cheese first, is an apple that didn't fall from the NY slice tree. While I’m happy that you were able to get to the bottom of your own personal mystery (and earn a few gloating rights with your brother ;) ), there was a collective 15 million person mystery that you were overlooking. Mama’s history mirrors all of NY- a single grain of sand on an entire beach of lost dreams. One sniffle in a far greater pandemic- a pandemic that a teacher of your stature should have been aware of. 
If the bread in France was dying a slow, tortuous 10 year death, believe me, you’d know about it.  And NY pizza was dying.  You saw, firsthand, the kind of compromises that pizzeria owners took that lead to a decline in quality. Was it that implausible for Mama’s compromise to be the tip of a regional, thousand compromise iceberg? The author of the pre-eminent 20th and 21st century book on pizza should have been able to make that connection.

Neapolitan Due Diligence

Regardless of the fact that you missed out on all the truly great NY pizzerias, NY is no less deserving of the same reverence that American Pie awards Phoenix, New Haven and Naples.
If you had taken a similarly less reverential tack as NY with all of your destinations, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but it would have been a little less salt in the wound.  Narrative-wise, you did right by Naples.  You performed your due diligence in defining Neapolitan pizza- and then some.  Oven, bake time, temperature, flour, standards- all laid out for the world to see. NY may not have anything along the lines of a VPN, but, at the same time, it has very similar, definable standards, practices that no one’s sat down and agreed upon, but customs that everyone adheres to- all of which help to make it great. Well, helped to make it great.

Sure, as far as classifications go, the elements that make Neapolitan pizza great are pretty easy to nail down.  You walk into any Neapolitan pizzeria, anywhere, and pretty much all you need to know is staring right back at you, and whatever you can’t see, the owner will be quick to explain. There’s very little secrecy to Neapolitan pizza.  It's all an open book, and, everyone, for the most part, is on the exact same page. As an outsider looking in, getting up to speed on how Neapolitan is defined is almost instantaneous. New York, on the other hand, is garlic, twisted in a knot, wrapped in a calzone.  I have yet to meet a Neapolitan pizzeria owner who wouldn't freely you give you his recipe. Ask a NY pizza guy his recipe, and all you'll get is a squint. "What do you want my recipe for?" He doesn't want you opening a place next door. Loose lips sink pizzerias. 
Regardless of how difficult it might have been to wrangle secrets out of pizzeria owners, if anyone could have done it, it would have been you. Tell them about the book you were writing, flash them that heart melting cherubic grin, and they may not have given you every key to the castle, but they’ll have offered up at least the information that most pizzeria owners are aware of.

All of this being said, as much as I'm frustrated that you missed out on such a significant scoop, didn’t dig deep enough, said respectful things about midtown Ray’s, got some bad advice, did well by Naples (and New Haven and Phoenix) and ended up featuring some of New York's least shining examples of pizza, none of these did substantial damage to NY culture or to home pizza making. To cover that, we’ve got to look at the recipe.
The Devil is in the Details

From American Pie:

“Attempting to replicate perfect pizza at home, especially without the high temperatures of a wood- or coal-burning oven, may seem like a daunting task. In fact, you may believe that the limitations of home ovens make it impossible to reproduce the pizzas of the truly great pizzerias. Though many home cooks are adventurous in other areas, most are content to satisfy their pizza craving with a stop at a favorite local pizzeria, home delivery, or a pie out of the freezer. (It is a tribute to pizza’s flavor potency that even when it is prepared on a mass scale, people keep coming back for more.) This is totally understandable if you live near one of the great pizzerias and you don’t believe you can match their pie at home. But what if you can?  Pizza is, after all, a peasant food at heart and should be as easy to make at home as meat loaf or macaroni and cheese.
My goal is to win you over to this view by teaching you some basic principles and methods that, when applied, yield wonderful home-baked pizzas in a variety of styles.”

The way I read this, and, correct me if I’m wrong here, you seem to be implying that, even though wood or coal fired results aren’t perfectly reproducible in a home oven, something ‘wonderful’ is still very much possible- in a variety of styles. Since NY style is neither wood, nor coal, it seems to read a lot like “Here’s a recipe for truly great NY style pizza.” 

While you later qualify your Neapolitan recipe with the caveat that it isn’t strictly DOC, your NY recipe receives no caveat. For the humble slice, there was no qualification:

“Here is the dough for the pizza with a medium-thick crust that you find in New York City, any college town, or anywhere else that pizza is sold by the slice.”

I don’t see how it could be possible for any beginning pizza maker to read your recipe section and come away with any other impression than this is a recipe for a truly great, authentic slice. The overwhelming sentiment was one of "Hey, you like NY pizza? I've got a wonderful recipe right here." Your readers aren't coming away from your book saying "this is Peter's impression of a NY pizza," they're saying "this IS NY pizza." When you add those impressions up, the impact is devastating.

Anybody and their brother can and does have a recipe for pizza. But when you, Peter Reinhart, publish a recipe, there’s an expectation that it’s founded in training. When you went to France, you didn’t just eat a lot of bread, and, based upon how the bread tasted, build your recipes.  In France, you turned over rocks. You were a bloodhound with a scent.  In New York, you ate pizza- at least, that’s how the recipe reads.  There was, from this New Yorker’s perspective, no Gosselin type figure behind the formulas.

When Evelyne Slomon wrote "The Pizza Book: Everything There is to Know About the World's Greatest Pie", she trained with the legendary coal owners.  She didn't get everything right and her scope was incredibly coal-centric, but, by sitting down with these legends and picking their brains, she was able to extract all the elements that went into that particular style.


"Gerry Lombardi told me how they made the pizza. He explained what type of flour they used, that the dough was very wet and soft and that the key was to let the dough rest at least over night before using it. Now, you must realize that none of these guys ever spoke in terms of formulas, recipes, hydration, fermentation, etc. For them it was a natural process that they'd been practicing for decades. They used their senses of touch, feel and sound along with their history to produce the results. "

Scott’s Top Ten Reasons Why American Pie’s NY Style Pizza Recipe Betrays NY Culture

10. Adding wine vinegar or lemon juice to the sauce
9. 6% oil in NY style dough
8. NY 4 hour dough exact same recipe as 2 day dough
7. 2.8% sugar in NY style dough
6. Parsley and thyme in NY style pizza sauce.
5. 2 tablespoons of garlic powder (tablespoons) or 10 cloves of garlic for one 28 oz. can puree
4. 14 oz. of water added to one 28 ounce can of tomato puree in sauce
3. No mention of bromate
2. 'rolling out NY style dough to ¼” thick'
1. 12 minute NY style bake time

Wine Vinegar/Lemon Juice

Doesn’t happen. Ever.  There’s plenty of variations when it comes to sauce (with one or two places actually committing the crime of cooking the sauce), but vinegar or lemon juice, never.

Most pizzerias use oil. There's some leeway when it comes to the amount of oil the average NY pizzeria has used/is using, but it's no where near the 6% listed in your book.


A high yeast dough that’s ready to bake in 4 hours will be, regardless of refrigeration, overproofed in 2 days.  You will find lots of pizzerias with extra dough at the end of the night who will use it the next day, but you’ll never find someone using it on day 2. 

Are we making pizza or are we making cinnamon rolls?  ;D With the small amount of residual sugar in a fast 4 hour proof, maybe something as high as 2% might be necessary to achieve browning, but for a 2 day proof, 2.8% sugar bears no resemblance to the typical quantity of sugar used in your average slice.


Alright, parsley’s pretty benign. If a young pizzeria worker screwed up and added parsley instead of oregano to the sauce, as long as there was still time to add oregano, he wouldn’t be fired.  But thyme?  Start updating your resume, kid.

Garlic will make it into quite a few NY metro area sauces, and some owners can have heavier hands than others. But 10 cloves? Are you making pizza sauce or warding off vampires?  ;) Don’t get me wrong,  I’m not knocking garlic.  I love the stuff.  I add it to my sauce, a sauce that’s a clone of the favorite pizzeria of my youth (my ‘Mama’s’)- one of the only pizzerias in my area that, at the time, added garlic.  I have tweaked the garlic more times than you can shake a wooden spoon at, and while I’m confident that not only does it match my pizzeria, but it also falls well within how much other pizzerias are using/have used. You know how much garlic I use? Half a clove.

You’re killing me here, Peter.  2 parts puree to 1 part water is a sauce making crime.  If there isn’t a law on the books for putting that much water in a sauce, there definitely should be. Most purees require no additional water, but, when additional water is needed for thinning, the most you’ll ever need for a 28 ounce can is 2 ounces.  2 parts puree to 1 part water will taste like red colored water.

Pappy covered this already, but since I had already written this, and it is so near and dear to my heart ;)  I’m including it. A book on pizza that doesn't at least mention bromate is doing NY style a tremendous disservice. Bromate IS NY pizza (and New Haven pizza as well). Pizzeria owners may not tell you what flour they use, but, there's frequently bags of flour in plain sight. Even in 2003, bloggers should have been aware of this fact.  Bromate has ruled the NY roost for at least 3 decades.

Bromate gets such a bad rap. As I write this, California, with their de facto bromated flour ban, allows as much bromate in their water as ends up in pizza. "But I drink bottled water", you might say.  With bottled water the regulations are even more lax.
I’ve gone head to head with so many bromhaters that I know that for many, there’s no words that I can possibly choose that will ever change their mind. Regardless of your feelings about the potential health effects of bromate, if you’re going to wax poetically about Pepe's, you have a duty to write about one of the primary elements that makes Pepe's great, and that’s potassium bromate.

Thickness Factor

In maybe as many as 500 NY pizzerias that I've visited over the course of 30 years, I've never seen a 1/4" skin. Chicago's attempt to co-opt the term 'thin crust' has confused a few people, but for millions, 'thin crust' is synonymous with NY.  A 1/4" skin, even when baked for long periods, is still going to be at least four times the thickness of a traditional NY slice and twice the thickness of any post '95 debasement.
This information is not just an American Pie thing. Thanks to the impact of the chains, I don't think I've ever met a non New Yorker that didn't have a warped view relating to thickness factor, but this blessing from your treatise certainly didn't help.

Some of these missteps produce quality issues (such as fermentation time and water in the sauce) while others broach authenticity, while some do both.  Quality can be a serious issue for home pizza makers.  Many people are happy with recipes that produce less than perfect results, but for those looking for, say, the pizza of their youth, if they find your recipe, get excited, and end up disappointed, they can easily become disillusioned and stop trying for a while. I spent 15 years in this purgatory, and, while it wasn’t your particular recipe that condemned me to my misery, the other authors had good intentions as well.
Bake Time

You state in the book that 80% of the pizza is the crust. I agree. Not only is 80% of the pizza crust, 80% of the crust is bake time.  Every single pizza that you did back flips over in American Pie was baked for 5 minutes or less. This includes:

Da Michele
When you extend the bake clock, the magic doesn't happen.  Without an intense rush of heat, the dough isn't sent soaring and you don't get the kind of puffiness that haunts you in your dreams. No one understands this better than the Neapolitans.  Bake a pizza longer than 2 minutes, and, for them (and those serious about Neapolitan here) it's no longer Neapolitan pizza. There's no close enough. No horse shoes or hand grenades.  Either you break that barrier and you get Neapolitan or you don't and it's something else. NY kow tows to the same physics, but the barrier draws a different line in the sand. It's less about authentic and inauthentic and more about life altering and mediocre. 5 minutes is that cutoff. Above 5- bob's your uncle. 5 and 10 minutes is like the difference between a water bagel and a non water bagel. Both bagels, one good, one not.  You didn't spell this out in AP, but you clearly revealed your preference in the list of pizzerias that impacted you the most.

In the section for ovens, you talk briefly about commercial ovens being run between 650 degrees and 1200 talking, again, with a perceived Neapolitan/brick oven slant. You also delve into multiple workarounds for the home oven. But the NY recipe… oh, the humanity! 12 whopping minutes in the recipe. That's a knife in the heart of NY pizza culture. The five ‘baking situations’ were a valiant attempt, but the recipe… ouch.  That's hundreds of thousands of readers under the misconception that a 12 minute pizza can be "wonderful", hundreds of thousands of readers using this abomination as a baseline for this national treasure.
Now, back in 2003, there weren't a whole lot of options for faster bakes for the home cook.  Soapstone was in use, but very few people knew about it. Thick cordierite kiln shelves had made some headway, but were still in their infancy.  There wasn't much you could offer in the way of better options than the ones you listed. I couldn’t have expected you to have had a crystal ball in terms of predicting what workarounds the home baker was destined to witness. That said, the recipe based implication that 12 minutes, for NY, could somehow be good enough and that home bakers shouldn't be actively striving for something faster- that set back home pizza making 20 years.
For you to have such a religious experiences consuming these fasted baked pizzas and not find a way to translate that glory and wonder to your audience… It’s saddens me. It would be like the first person discovering how to make chocolate, coming back to civilization and giving them the recipe for carob.  Even if they didn't have the ingredients for chocolate, it was that person’s sworn duty to motivate their followers to track those ingredients down- by ANY means necessary. You've stood in the holiest of shrines, with God's light beaming down upon you, and you saw a glimpse of the promise land of shorter bake times. Even if you had absolutely no idea how to get there, you still should have tried to motivate your people towards that ultimate goal.
And that was 2003, when viable materials for fast home oven bakes were in their infancy.  In nine years, the Red Sea for faster home bakes has parted. Neapolitan can't be reliably done in every home oven, but New Haven and pre-95 New York can. It's a brave new world. Everybody's trying every trick in the book to achieve these sacred times- some safe, some a little less safe:


but many, many victories. There are certain home ovens that can’t pull off fast bakes no matter what, but for the vast majority, there’s hope.

I’m making a huge deal out of this, less because you should have known this in the book, but more, because, in the last 8 years, you should have connected the dots.  Exhibit A:

Peter Reinhart: ...and your oven is hot enough to bake them in about a minute or so, which is pretty fast- that's Naples style heat

Kelly Whitaker: Yeah, yeah. So we're coming- this one's about to be pulled right now

Reinhart: -almost done already

Whitaker: It's- one more turn here

Reinhart: In a home oven someone could use a pizza stone and crank up their oven, and, just get it as hot as they can get it,

Whitaker: Definitely, definitely

Reinhart: Instead of one minute it may take 5 minutes, but, same idea

Whitaker: Absolutely, same idea.

First of all, there's not a retail pizza stone anywhere that, can, with a 'cranked' oven, broach the 7 minute bake barrier. More importantly, retail baking stones, for anyone that cares about pizza, are done. Hoop skirt. And of even greatest importance of all?  One and five minutes are in no way the ‘same idea.’  These are not the words, in my opinion, of a person with their finger on the pulse of the future of pizza. Not the words of the author of BBA. From that author, I expect more.

Bake time is great pizza's most important ingredient.  There's not a recipe on the planet that can compensate for a longer bake. If you're not teaching and/or inspiring your students to hit the bake times where the bliss happens, you're not, imo, the leading force in the pizza community that you could be.
Yes, I'm aware that we're having this discussion under the gracious auspices of a wood fired oven manufacturer and I'm well aware of your own wood fired oven adventures.  A wood fired oven pretty much makes any bake time possible. But everybody should get to play in the fast bake time sandbox, even those that aren't in the position to pay a couple thousand dollars for an oven.

Planting seeds

And yes, I'm also fully aware that your audience is mostly the home baker, and most home bakers don't really care that much about pizza bliss.  I'm not expecting you to tell people to replace their stones with something superior or that if their pizza doesn't come in under a certain bake time, it's garbage, but I think your flock deserves to be made aware of the better options out there. "That way's great, but, hey, this way's great, too!" or "For those that want to go the extra mile, here’s what you can do."
Write for the non-obsessive audience, obviously, but, in a gentle way, foment obsession.

How many home bakers have the type of schedule that will allow them to make the dough the day before? Let's face it, making the dough a day before is a bit of a hassle. BBA spells it out crystal clear: day before dough is superior.  Regardless of it's blatant superiority, you don't lay down any hard and fast rules in American Pie. You don’t beat anyone over the head.  It's just a gentle coax. You plant a seed. "This can be great... but if you want to go that extra mile..."  Making dough the day before doesn't rank too terribly high on the obsession scale, but it's still that extra effort, a little more love- the same way that you gently coaxed your readers into longer fermentation in American Pie, you can also dance around the merits of better flours and faster bake times/superior hearth materials today.

There will be many that read this and think I’m being petty.  I’m sure there’s some bagel bakery somewhere saying “So what if I don’t boil the bagels first, get off my back!”  When defending cultural treasures, you have to split these kinds of hairs. At the end day, as much as I’ve whined and moaned about misinformation, we wouldn’t be having this conversation had 4 small things been said a little differently in your book: Less water in the sauce, 1/16" thickness rather than 1/4", a comment about great NY pizza using bromated flour and taking only 4-6 minutes to bake, and, rather than listing bake times in the recipes, just saying "bake as fast as your oven setup will allow." That's it. You could have gone to every Ray’s in New York and I would still, for the most part, have been your biggest fan.
And, FINALLY, if you’ve made it this far, you have my sincerest gratitude. Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. Honestly, I really did spend a great deal of time whittling it down.  I thought about splitting it up into multiple parts, but came to the conclusion that pulling the bandage off all at once was the best way forward.

Thank you, again, for your willingness to initiate this dialog.  As new members on Pizzamaking.com ask questions about how they can improve the results from a Reinhart NY recipe (and there are literally countless questions along these lines), I will still continue to steer them towards something a little more authentic, but, at the same time, I will do so in a far more respectful manner.

Yours, in Pizza,


Offline Pappy

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2012, 09:55:46 AM »
Write for the non-obsessive audience, obviously, but, in a gentle way, foment obsession.

A phrase for the ages.  Wish I'd thought of it.

Of course, Scott123 thought of it, and posted it at Peter Reinhart's site, along with an extraordinary series of comments describing his reaction to Reinhart's American Pie, and his thoughts on NY pizza.

I cannot repeat enough times what an truly gracious gentleman Peter Reinhart has proven to be, and cannot thank him enough for providing a forum for Scott123, me, and anyone else to air their thoughts, grievances, and assertions about pizza, and his approach to it.

I strongly urge everyone to check out Peter's site and read through all the comments in the pertinent section.  Peter is traveling now, and is extremely busy, but he has responded to various comments, and will respond more fully to Scott's thoughts as soon as he is able.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and deserves your support.

Offline pizzablogger

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2012, 10:04:25 AM »
Scott, a small point, but one that is often missed in pizza histories:

The GIs returning home from Italy are an important part, but only part of the equation of the hunkering for Italian food (and in this case in particular, pizza) that more Americans had after WWII.  

The additional demand, and I have newspaper articles which speak to this, was that immediately after WWII America experienced an economic upturn (it was, afterall, WWII that ended the Depression, not FDRs New Deal programs). Due to the economic prosperity, many Americans began to travel internationally for the first time and try foods from those other countries...and they often liked it. Italy was one of the favored destinations for Americans travelling abroad after WWII.

The combination of American GIs stationed in Italy and the broader amount of citizens from all over the country beginning to travel after WWII is what brought the demand to the point where pizza was brought out from Italian ethnic neighborhoods to the populace at large (although it was a war veteran that helped design the first deck oven at Bakers Pride I believe).

Of course, right from the start of the deck oven era quality took an immediate nosedive as evidenced by one of the first pizza related "wars" in the mid to late 50's between traditional mozzarella makers and producers of "synthetic mozzarella". The argument and ensuing legal battle made a few appearences in the NY Times and Herald.

Blah, blah. I enjoyed the dialogue you posted here. --K
« Last Edit: August 17, 2012, 10:06:16 AM by pizzablogger »
"It's Baltimore, gentlemen, the gods will not save you." --Burrell

Offline slybarman

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2012, 10:15:37 AM »
Another great post Scott. Tons of good info and passion. Mad props.

Offline pizzablogger

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Re: The Reinhart Dialog
« Reply #19 on: August 17, 2012, 10:37:06 AM »
I fall in and out of love with NY-Style pizza (mostly out of love)...primarily because most of it is completely unimpressive to me. And has been for many years.

I am glad Scott has reiterated over and over about bake time. As I've said many times now, the number of 8, 10 and 12 minute pies I've timed at various NY-Style pizzerias is mind boggling. Longer fermentations and thin thickness factor, sub 5 minute (4 is more like it!) bakes is a huge step in the right direction.

Last week as my stopwatch hit 11 minutes and the pizzamaker was still talking to other kitchen staff while my pizza was dying in the oven, I just walked out of the store and went back to work, picking up a sandwich from a deli on the way. I'm fed up with it.

I could hear Paulie's voice in my head from a visit to a pizzeria where he mentioned "it's hotter outside than it is in that oven". And it was March. --K
"It's Baltimore, gentlemen, the gods will not save you." --Burrell