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Friday, July 18, 2014

Pizza Stop Winner!

Diane Gelose, who entered a comment here on July 11 at 1:15 p.m., is the winner of two $10 gift certificates to The Pizza Stop. Congratulations, Diane!
All I need you to do is send your mailing address to me at, and I'll get them in the mail asap.
Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks for reading The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. Keep watching for more giveaways in the future.

Interview: Angelo "Sonny" Veltre

In 2011, I did a post about Veltre Bakery, one of Rochester's original pizzerias. A few weeks ago, I sat down over lunch with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre, who ran that bakery for many years, and worked or helped out there more years, both before and after he was in charge. He's a wonderful guy, and it was a pleasure to speak with him.
The old Veltre Bakery used to be on Parkway St. in Rochester, just off Lyell Avenue. When Angelo's parents bought it in the 1930s, it had been in use for some time, and had incorporated a coal-fired oven, built into the wall, from the start.
Angelo's father learned his trade at the long-gone Bond Bakery in Rochester, which seems to have been something of a training ground for bakers around here.
Angelo, who was born in 1928, started working at the Veltre Bakery as a young boy, and part of his tasks included taking small pizzas around the neighborhood for sale.
In the beginning, pizza was no more than an adjunct to bread, which was Veltre's mainstay. They'd offer small pizzas, which in those days were as simple as can be, topped with little more than tomatoes and oregano. To make a little more money, Sonny was tasked with taking pizzas around to local bars at the end of the day, offering them for sale to patrons for ten cents apiece. At that time, pizza was a novelty, and many customers didn't even know what it was at first. But they quickly came to like it; Sonny recalled one night when a bar fight broke out over the sale of his last pizza (fortunately for him, Sonny got out before the fists started to fly in his direction).
Notably, Sonny also told me that Veltre sold some of its wares out of a truck. As the saying goes, eventually everything old is new again. Veltre was operating a food truck decades before the current food-truck trend took hold.
In the 1940s, Sonny got drafted, though he never made it overseas. He got in late in the war, and stayed stateside. But thanks to his military service, Sonny was able, under the GI Bill, to attend a bakery trade school, where he honed his craft. In fact, he learned so much that he was able to bake his own wedding cake on a Friday for the next day's reception.
And he learned how to use Veltre's coal oven. Sonny described it as a "primitive" oven, which to me makes it sound all the more intriguing. He'd show up for work at around 4 or 5 a.m. to start the fire, with wood, before adding the coal. The oven did incorporate a blower to blow off the coal smoke, but besides smoke and heat, coal produces ash, and cleaning the grates was a daily task.
How hot did Veltre's coal-fired oven get? Sonny didn't know. It had no thermometer, and he didn't need one. The baker had to use his judgment regarding where to place the loaf, or pizza, and when to turn it or take it out. Pizza went to the back, the hottest part of the oven, and bread closer to the front.
It was after WW2 that pizza started to change. Sonny doesn't give much credence to the theory that this was due to GIs returning from Italy, and I've had my doubts about that myself. But for whatever reason, the pizzas got bigger, and mozzarella and pepperoni became more common toppings.
The post-war years were the peak of the bakery. There was a spate of weddings at that time, and it wasn't uncommon for soldiers and their brides to order a few sheet pizzas for the reception. As Sonny put it, "pizza and beer, and you're all set." Veltre was also supplying bread to local restaurants and delivering downtown, turning out 100+ loaves a day.
Interestingly, in those days, apparently pizza boxes hadn't yet been invented, or at least they weren't in widespread use. Instead, to-go pies were typically put on a cardboard disk, tied with twine. Sonny recalled one winter night when a customer in a hurry grabbed a pizza to go, tied only with one string, instead of crossways. To Sonny's horror, he saw the pie slide off the base, right under the customer's car, into the snow and slush along the curb. Sonny ran out and offered the guy a new, fresh pizza.
Things continued to go well for Veltre Bakery, but change was in the wind. In the old days, amazingly, Veltre didn't lock its doors at night. As Angelo put it, "Who would rob the guy next door?" And neighbors were welcome to use its ovens. It truly sounds as if Veltre was a genuine neighborhood institution.
But as time went on, the neighborhood became less neighborly. Whether real or perceived, crime in the city was on the increase. Neighbors didn't know each other as well, if at all. At age 62, Angelo retired, more or less, and his son Dave took over. Angelo stayed on as a consultant.
The end came in 1999, when Dave decided to pursue a career as a sheriff's deputy. Angelo completely supported that decision, and I can't fault him for that. There's no more honorable career than law enforcement.  But with no buyers stepping forward to take over the bakery, Veltre closed its doors, and they've remained closed since.
But that was hardly the end for Sonny Veltre. For the past fifteen years, he's worked as a lifeguard at the Northwest Family YMCA on Long Pond Road, where he's saved several people from drowning. Most of these were not dramatic, "Save me, I'm drowning!" kinds of rescues of the type we imagine, and I suspect that few are. Mostly they've involved heart attacks or seizures in the water, with the swimmers silently slipping under the surface, which requires diligent attention by the lifeguard. When that's happened on his watch, Angelo has pulled out the swimmer and called for additional help. But in describing one such rescue, he half-jokingly added that he was "only" 78 years old at the time.
As far as I know, the Veltre Bakery building, including the oven, is still intact. I'd love to find a way to go inside - legally of course - and take some photos. I'll continue looking into that possibility.
I'm also going to watch a movie. Mr. Veltre told me that back in the 1980s, a movie, "Moving Target," used the bakery as a shooting location at one point. I've found a movie by that name on Neflix, and have added it to my queue, but I haven't been able to confirm that it's the movie he's talking about. When I watch it, I'll keep my eyes out for anything that looks like a bakery.
I wanted to meet with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre to discuss pizza and baking, and I did, and that was indeed very interesting. But I also got to meet an amiable man who's lived a very full and productive life, and who's still going strong at age 87.
I'm sure I wasn't the first to do so, but I couldn't resist asking Angelo to what he attributes not just his longevity, but his vitality. His response was, in effect, "Just lucky, I guess." I hope we call all be that lucky. And I know I consider myself lucky to have met this fine gentleman.

Monday, July 14, 2014

King Arthur Baking Education Center

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a four-day class on "Advanced Artisan Bread" at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. This was partly a birthday present from my wife, and also part of a weeklong family vacation in Stowe, Vermont. Stowe, which is a bit east of Burlington, more or less in the mid-northwest part of the state, is about a 90-minute drive from Norwich, which is on the New Hampshire border, in the mid-southeast part of the state. But thanks to some friends who own a timeshare, we were able to stay at a great place in Stowe for a very affordable price, which made it well worth the daily drive to and from Norwich.
The King Arthur facility comprises a gift shop, cafe, kitchen, and the baking center, where classes are offered for both home and professional bakers. Before I got to the classroom, I took a peek at the kitchen, where visitors can watch King Arthur's bakers preparing that day's loaves and pizzas. Some of their more artistic (and probably petrified) creations are visible through the windows.
I then headed for the classroom, which was a baker's version of a high school chemistry lab, with long workspaces facing the instructor's table in front. Several ovens lined an adjacent wall, and a large video monitor hung over the instructor's work space.
I got there early, and chose a seat up front, the better to see what was going on. But it didn't matter much, as students were free to come up close to watch whenever the instructor was demonstrating any techniques.
Over the course of four days, we covered a wide range of breads: grissini (crunchy breadsticks), pissaladiere (a kind of southern-French pizza), roasted-potato bread, brioche, baguettes, sourdough bagels and bread, ciabatta, deli rye, and volkornbrot, a German sourdough bread made entirely from rye.
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If that sounds like a lot to cover in four days, well, it was. Though the mood was light, this was no recreational, "come out and bake while sipping on wine" kind of class. We were kept busy throughout. No sooner had I finished one task than we were moving on to the next. There was little if any down time.
The disadvantage of covering such a broad range of breads, I suppose, is that the class was more broad than deep. I left with some gained knowledge, for sure, but we couldn't get too deeply into any one style.
Having said that, I did learn a lot. We did some breads, in the same style, using different pre-ferment starters, so we could compare the results. We also made baguettes using three different types of flour (interestingly, most of us agreed that the all-purpose flour yielded better results than the so-called European- and French-style flours). And the instructors were always on hand to watch us and offer helpful advice on our dough-handling technique.
One of our final assignments was to split up into teams of three to create our own bread recipes. With the help of our instructors, my team came up with a cinnamon raisin bread recipe. I guess we were successful, because my wife loved it and wants me to make it again. I'll post the recipe soon.
Despite the brevity of the course, the final day felt like graduation day. The mood was festive, and the class was capped off by the presentation of certificates of completion. Each of us was also given a brotform/banneton (bread proofing bowl), and a sourdough starter to take home with us. As a bonus, the staff prepared a to-die-for chocolate cake in honor of that day's birthday of one of my classmates.
The cake and banneton were not the only freebies, though. Every night, I returned to our condo with several loaves of bread, far more than we could possibly eat. of breadsticks. I was so overwhelmed that one night my daughter and I went around knocking on doors and giving bread away to our neighbors. We ran into one family a couple of nights later in Stowe who thanked me effusively for the bread, so that made me feel good. What we couldn't eat or give away, I mostly wrapped and froze. Some I gave away after we got home.
I'd be seriously remiss if I neglected to make special mention of our instructors, Amber, Jessica and Sharon (there were at least a couple of others assisting, but those were our primary instructors - my apologies to the others for not thanking them by name). They were terrific, and did remarkably well at imparting their knowledge, keeping the mood light, and answering frequent questions. I can't say enough about them. I was especially grateful to have them spend time with me, individually, to help me improve my bread-baking techniques, from kneading wet dough to shaping loaves, to the proper way to slash the top of a baguette. And without their assistance in formulating a recipe, I probably wouldn't want to pass on our cinnamon raisin bread recipe.
Finally, let me say a word or two about my classmates. We had quite an interesting mix, from my teammates, science-teacher Dave and car-dealer Frank, to the student who rode for hours on her bike each day back and forth to the ladies who came up from the deep South together. I haven't mentioned them all, and we covered quite a spectrum, but they were a great bunch. With all its various ingredients, a dough might make a good metaphor.
If you're interested in going yourself, know that baking classes at King Arthur aren't exactly cheap. This four-day class cost $475. But if you're really into baking, they're well worth it. You're getting intensive training, the use of their world-class facilities, the benefit of their instructors' expertise, a few freebies to take home, and some great memories. I'm not sure if or when the opportunity will again arise, but I'd love to go back.

King Arthur Baking Education Center
135 US Route 5 South
Norwich, Vermont 05055

phone: 802 649 3361
fax: 802 649 3365
email: bakers@​

Monday–Sunday 7:30am to 6:00pm
Closed New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day

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