An Interview with Chef Brad at Blaze Pizza

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October is National Pizza Month and did you know that Wednesday, November 12th is National Pizza With Everything (except anchovies) Day? Today’s interview is with Chef Brad Kent, owner of the nationally acclaimed Olio Restaurant and Pizzeria, whose pizzas Zagat called “one of 10 pies in the country worth traveling for.” Chef Brad is also the executive chef of Blaze Pizza. Recently, he was at the West Babylon restaurant working with the team on creating dough and utilizing the intricacies of the wood-burning pizza oven to ensure each pie has a crispy, and slightly charred crust.

Chef Brad graduated from the local Culinary Institute of America and has more than 20 years working specifically with pizza dough. Below you will find the interview, where he shares tips and tricks to creating the perfect pizza dough, discusses the rapid emergence of the artisan fast casual pizza category, and offers insight into how to make a pie at home utilizing a standard oven.

1. Describe the emergence of artisan fast casual pizza and how have customers responded to it?

Artisanal fast casual pizza was born out of the movement of hand crafted pizzas in the Neapolitan tradition whose roots seemed to gain attention in the US beginning about 10 years ago. People have responded in a big way to the assembly line style fast casual pizza for several reasons:

a.  It is super fast

b.  It is a great value (guests can build a pizza much like the more expensive and less accessible “traditional” hand crafted pizzas for about 1/2 of the cost)

c.  It is a lot of fun. The environment in a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria is very serious. Though we take our pizzas very seriously we have a lot of fun interacting with our guests so they have a more dynamic experience building their own pizzas

Signature Green Stripe pizza
Brad with Blaze Pizza’s Signature Green Stripe pizza

2. What are some tips and tricks to creating pizza dough in your home kitchen?

Follow the recipe explicitly. If it states “speed 1 on a KitchenAid 4 1/2 quart stand mixer with a dough hook for 3 1/2 minutes” that does not mean that speed 1 on a 6 quart KitchenAid stand mixer with the flat beater will produce the correct results. Use the exact type of flour stated in the recipe. Do not use reverse osmosis water (minerals are needed to develop gluten). Make sure your yeast is fresh. If it is stored in a hot area it still may be bad even if used before its expiration date. Do not use rancid oil. That also impacts gluten. Do not use iodized salt. It tastes bad. Do not try to speed the fermentation process. Slower fermentation is better. Do not over work your dough. It does not recover once gluten is damaged. Work gently. If the dough is handled roughly when trying to stretch, it will simply snap back into a smaller shape in revolt. Treat dough gently and it will produce a beautiful pizza!

3. For those not close to Blaze Pizza or Olio Restaurant and Pizzeria, what are some ways families can celebrate National Pizza Month at home?

Go to YouTube and watch videos of pizza making in Italian. That is always good to get me into the mood. If you can’t have good pizza, eat a burger!

4. What are the top three criteria for crafting the perfect pizza?

a.  Properly handled dough

b.  Gently stretched into the desired shape and topped with restraint (its easy to overload a pizza so stick to no more than 3 toppings plus sauce and cheese if possible)

c.  Bake it as soon after stretching and topping in a very hot oven on a stone hearth

Signature Red Vine pizza
Signature Red Vine pizza (Ovalini mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, parmesan, basil, red sauce and olive oil drizzle)

5. What are your personal favorite pizza toppings?

I categorize toppings into their key sensory attributes. I like toppings that are savory and spicy, acidic and umami, rich and creamy and pungent. A set of ingredients that will accomplish these attributes would be spicy pork sausage, tomato sauce, whole milk cheeses and arugula.

6. What is the proper temperature to cook pizza?

Cooking time is more critical to me as long as you are baking on a stone hearth. If a pizza is ready in 2:15-3:15 I am happy. That could be 535f in a Woodstone oven, 550f in a home convection oven on a stone, 820f in a Mugniani oven, 720f in an Earthstone oven, 780f in a Stefano Ferrara oven. It depends on the thermodynamics of the oven and the density and porosity of the refractory ceramic hearth.

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