Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

In the days before solbar opened, we tried to figure out a great pizza dough recipe. We tested at least five, decided on one. Same thing with the tomato sauce recipe. Decided on a few toppings (less is more). Then it came to Shaping the Pizza.

One of the opening sous chefs, Trevor Anderson, gave a demo to about ten cooks. Now these cooks are all local Latinos, and several of them are still at solbar after three years. Most of them have worked at pizza joints in Calistoga, and one of them, Artemio, trained more than half the cooks in this town on pizzaiolaing (sic).

So after Trevor, who I think worked at Mary’s Pizza Shack, was done shaping his dough with a rolling pin, saucing it, cheesing it, and sliding it into the oven with the wooden peel, naturally he asked for a volunteer to go next. Artemio stepped up and knocked out a perfect circle of even dough in what seemed like three moves. The rest of the cooks followed suit (and I started practicing my pizza dough after they all clocked out for the day).

Three improved pizza dough recipes later, we’ve settled on one that relies on a biga-style starter that ferments overnight, and we don’t add any sugar to the dough, so it won’t burn prematurely in the oven. The toppings are carefully chosen, but you can’t have a great pizza without great crust. So while we’re not Neapolitan, have only two pizzas on the menu, and a tabletop electric Baker’s Pride oven (lined with stones that produce a consistent crisp crust), a lot of thought and attention go into those pizzas, because who doesn’t love pizza?

Prius drivers?
4 Prius makers?
All of the above?
None of the above?

The answer is 8–everybody loves pizza (=”none of the above doesn’t love pizza”, sorry for the double negative, which is how I got tricked on the CA DMV test). It’s the new Great Communicator, like beer to Obama, Gates, and the cop who arrested Gates (who it turns out wasn’t a robber). Pizza in its current form was supposedly brought back to the US by soldiers returning from WWII, same as downhill skiing. And also like beer, the Egyptians did it first.  But 8 should have an asterisk . . . everybody loves GOOD pizza, and in places like NYC and northern California, diners take it seriously.  The only restaurant that ever received 30 in Zagat, so restaurant lore has it, was Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

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