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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Passion for Pizza

At the very beginning of Passion for Pizza:  A Journey through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite, authors Craig Whitson, Tore Gjestland, Mats Widen, and Kenneth Hansen ask the question, "Does the World Really Need Another Book About Pizza?" After reading their book, I agree with them that the answer is "yes."
A lot's been written about pizza, and given its popularity, the steady stream of books will continue for some time. So a book worth buying, and reading, had better have a fresh take on the subject.
The authors here have taken an unusual approach, dedicating the first half of the book to profiling over 60 "iconic" pizzerias in the U.S. and Italy, and the second half to over 50 recipes for making pizza at home, similar to what's produced by those pizzerias. It's a pretty entertaining read, even if it left me wanting a little more.
That first half consists mostly of interviews with pizzeria owners and pizzaioli, from well-known figures like Domenico DeMarco of Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn to Scott Wiener, who has made a successful business out of conducting New York City "pizza tours," to pizza personalities who will be less well known to American readers, like Maria Cacialli, who, as a female pizzaiola, is relatively rare in Italy.
The interviews are concise but well-informed. They're not just a series of "what's your favorite style of pizza" questions. Along the same lines, while the book is well illustrated with color photographs, it's not all photos and no substance. Yes, you'll read about some of the interviewees' favorite styles, but you'll also learn about the personalities behind the pizzerias, their history, and the techniques they use. The interviews are interspersed with features on various pizza-related subjects, from ingredients, to reheating pizza, to what to drink with pizza
As much as I enjoyed the interviews (which got me thinking that I should do more of those for this blog), I was more interested in the recipes. I've got a shelf full of pizza books, but if you're like me and you like to cook, or bake in particular, it's never a bad thing to pick up more advice and ideas. While I wouldn't recommend this as a first book on how to make homemade pizza, if you have a little experience, the authors do a good job on explaining the process. I've long been interested in Chicago thin-crust style pizza, which few people outside of Chicago have even heard of, and the recipe here is well detailed and clearly laid out. I plan to give it a shot, with this book opened on my kitchen counter, in the near future.
Many of America's truly iconic pizzerias are covered here, but I was surprised to see New Haven, CT omitted in the interview section (although New Haven style pizza does appear in the recipe section). I've not been to New Haven, sad to say, but it has almost mythic status among American pizza lovers. I would've liked at least a brief feature on Connecticut pizza.
But the authors don't make any claim that this book is a comprehensive guide to pizza, American or otherwise. That's both a weakness and a strength. Passion for Pizza is a mixed bag, part overview of the pizza scene in the two most important pizza countries in the world, part cookbook, and part reflection of the authors' personal pizza-related experiences. It may not be your go-to book on all things pizza, but neither is it just another glossy, generic coffee-table book. There's enough here to keep any pizza lover occupied for many hours of happy reading, in the living room, den, or kitchen.

Passion for Pizza:  A Journey through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite. 286 pages. (c) 2015 Pizza Angels AS.

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