My Pizza Oven »

Q&A about home pizza ovens.

My Pizza Oven: Pizzahacker, the Renegade Pieman of San Francisco

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Pizza Hacker with his heavily modded "FrankenWeber." [Photograph: Eric Wolfinger]

Name: Pizzahacker, aka Jeff Krupman
Location: San Francisco's Mission District now, born in Columbus, Ohio (Bexley)
Occupation: I sell pizza (illegally) in the streets/parks and work on the oven in between. Also working on web apps—latest is txtli.com (recently launched from thestartupbus.com)
Website: thepizzahacker.com
Twitter: Find out where he'll be cooking next by following @PizzaHacker

When did you start pizza hacking? Did you start in your backyard and eventually move to the streets with your product?

I've been making pizza at home since I moved to SF in '94 and couldn't find any decent pie. I came up w/the "FrankenWeber" (renaming PizzaForge to avoid trademark hassles) early last year and joined the burgeoning SF street food movement soon after.

How long have you been obsessed with pizza?

I think I always loved pizza even more than other kids—my answer for "what to do?" in high school was invariably, "let's get some pizza and watch a movie." The real bolt of lightning was probably eating at Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples in 2001.

Were you inspired by the Little Black Egg?

I've been trying to figure out which came first (the FrankenWeber or the Egg—haha) to me (I know the LBE has been around for a long time). I remember I didn't think the LBE was a very elegant solution when I saw it.

You're talking about releasing a commercial product. Would this be a kit that buyers could use to modify their existing Webers or would it be completely finished by you?

Probably both eventually, but a kit to start.

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[Photograph: The Pizza Hacker]

Have you run into any trouble with The Man regarding selling on the street? Did you have to get a vendor license, etc?

No trouble yet (knocking on wood) Getting a vendor's license would be like getting half-pregnant (I mean, you're either legal or you're not). SF is trying to streamline the process, I'm just trying to stay under the radar and concentrate on getting the oven to market. Slinging pie on the street is a tough way to make a buck (legal or not).

How many pizzas do you make a night?

Varies pretty widely. Ten to 30.

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[Photograph: The Pizza Hacker]

What's your best seller?

The Top Shelf Margarita—buffalo mozzarella, my hand-picked, organic, dry-farmed, early girl tomato sauce, smoked salt on the cornicione, bariani olive oil, fresh basil, Parmigiano, and naturally leavened dough (à la Tartine Bakery).

How do you transport the Frankenweber to your cooking sites?

I usually borrow a vehicle from a friend (thx oneclickfix.net and mikefarrruggia.com) or setup at the corner bar (the Uptown) or use Zipcar. The whole rig fits into a car, but I really need a bicycle trailer.

What type of pizza do you prefer?

I make what I like—what Scott Wiener (of scottspizzatours.com) classifies as NEO-politan—generally authentic Neopolitan, but with local influences (domestic flour, local tomatoes, wild yeast).

The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?

I definitely subscribe to the PCT. I was weened on Rubino's Pizza, Bexley, Ohio. It's still around, but I don't think it's what it once was (sorry, 'Binos), but it could be my taste has evolved. It's a cracker-thin pie made with sliced provolone and cut into small rectangles. A corollary to the PCT is that going to Naples (and probably a few places in U.S. now) will reset your target.


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What's your favorite topping or topping combination?

Depends on the location/season/circumstances/sobriety level. I generally order Margheritas because that is the best test (and when they're great, they're great), but I have been digging stinging nettles and pastured eggs lately. Fra'mani soppressata, fresh marjoram, and hot peppers are solid. Wild chanterelles are awesome but expensive.

Where do you go for pizza in your area when you're not making it yourself?

I'm dangerously burnt out on pizza. I always tell folks to go to Delfina in SF, Pizzeria Picco in Marin, Pizzaiolo in East Bay. I'm going to try Marzano's tonight; it hasn't enjoyed the hype of some others, but it looks pretty legit. I'm sure Mangieri will be setting the bar once he gets going. Also, I haven't been to Tony Gemigniani's place yet, but it sounds very promising.

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[Photograph: The Pizza Hacker]

What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?

That's like asking a Catholic to choose from the Holy Trinity! I want to answer "Oven." Temperature really is important. If you can't get to at least 600°F, don't bother. Crust has to be the most important element—open, tender crumb on the inside, crisp/blackened on the outside—and character/flavor (see Apizza Scholls).

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

Canned olives are pretty offensive.

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[Photograph: The Pizza Hacker]

Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?

My Thanksgiving pie was pretty funky, but I really loved it: thyme-infused crust, Fra'mani turkey gravy, dried cranberries and cherries, par-roasted sweet potatoes with sage, shaved brussels sprouts tossed in guanciale fat, rosemary salt around the crust, fresh cow mozz.

What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?

Naples, I guess, but pizza was just an accident. I will definitely be making my way to Phoenix for Bianco's and only for Bianco's when I can afford it.

What is your target pizza?

Cross Apizza Scholls and Tartine Bakery's crust with Da Michele's perfect balance and execution using the best possible local ingredients. Eventually, I'd like to perfect a mostly whole wheat crust.

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[Photograph: The Pizza Hacker]

What do you do differently from anybody else and why?

I sprinkle salt around the "cornicione," or outer crust of the pie. I usually use alderwood-smoked salt, but sometimes rosemary or truffle salt as appropriate. It makes sense because the base pie gets plenty of salt from cheese and the plain crust is usually begging for something—I would especially love to see Brian Spangler (Apizza Scholls) do this; it is a crying shame to see his beautiful crusts tossed into trash.

Also, I use only local, organic heirloom tomatoes because they taste a lot better than canned San Marzanos and only add about $1 to the cost of a pie. I want to get diners to regard tomato sauce like wine (vintage, varietal, method, terroir all apply). A demand for premium tomato sauce would increase viability of family farms and the health of patrons.

(Disclaimer: I intend to launch a brand of super premium tomato sauce this summer under the name ManoTomato.)

What is your ultimate goal?

Democratization. I want to enable anybody to make world-class pizza on their deck or in their backyard, cheaply, quickly, and efficiently. It's fun, veggie-friendly and 100 times easier than people think. We need an alternative to regular old grilling, and everybody loves pizza (don't trust anybody who doesn't).

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

I make about $5 an hour (maybe less, I don't have time to calculate) selling my pizzas for $12 to $18 a pizza. They are truly a labor of love. I mix the dough by hand, pick/can the sauce by hand. Make/transport the oven, etc. I spend more on olive oil or wood per pizza than Domino's does on ingredients for a whole pie. If you think my pizzas are too expensive, Fuck You! Please enjoy your family farm–killing, exploited illegal immigrant–built, fake cheese–laden, nutritionally void, race-to-the-bottom pizza. You deserve it.

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