Pizza Obsessives: Aaron Mattis, Slice Summer Intern

Pizza Obsessives

Slice interviews with folks who are mad about pizza.

You've already seen his work — "The Best Pizza in NYC's Penn Station" — now it's your chance to meet Aaron Mattis, Slice's summer intern. He'll be here through the end of the month and will be popping up with DIY pizza posts and NYC pizza explorations. Without further ado, let's put 'im in the hot seat! The Mgmt.


[Photograph: Aaron Mattis]

Name: Aaron Mattis
Location: Scarsdale, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts

What type of pizza do you prefer to eat?

I like all kinds of pizza, but my favorite is what Alan Richman calls the "American pie": a thin but substantial crust and fresh, flavorful ingredients.

What's your favorite topping or topping combination?

I love sausage (crumbled, not sliced), mushrooms, and fried eggplant. I'm also partial to flavorful raw ingredients such as arugula or prosciutto applied after a pizza comes out of the oven.

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?

As a child in Los Alamos, New Mexico, I ate wonderful wood-oven pizza at Il Vicino in Santa Fe whenever my family went into the city. Though I haven't been there in years, I still consider it the prototypical gourmet pizza. My mom also made great whole-wheat pizza at home that was a lot better than anything in Los Alamos. Perhaps most important, I won a pizza-eating contest at Pizza Hut in the first grade.

Over the years I've come to value the same qualities in pizza that I like in all my food: clear, harmonious flavors; creativity and originality; and judicious use of the freshest possible ingredients.

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

I've enjoyed pizzas with no sauce and pizzas with very little cheese or no cheese at all, but there's no such thing as good pizza without a good crust.

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

I'm not partial to pineapple or any kind of seafood on my pizza, but I suppose a sufficiently wonderful pizzeria could change my mind. I'm very skeptical of dessert pizzas.

Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?

Back in middle school my friends and I used to order baked ziti pizza and chicken Parmigiana pizza every week after band practice. Good times.

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

I once walked through Manhattan for two hours en route to Artichoke Basille's Pizza in the East Village.

You make pizza at home, which is one of the reasons we liked you for this Slice internship. What recipes do you use? What types of pizzas do you make?

I use Jim Lahey's no-knead pizza dough recipe to make thin-crust pizzas with minimal toppings that won't weigh down the crust or make it soggy.

Did you trick out your oven at all or did you keep things simple? Can you share any tips with us all?

I try to get around the limitations of a home oven by using the Heston Blumenthal method, wherein you place a thin-crust pizza on a superheated cast iron skillet and slide it under the broiler to apply bidirectional high heat to the pizza. This method also works with a pizza stone.

How do your family and friends react?

My whole family loves pizza, and my little brother and cousins love to help me cook. That said, my parents weren't thrilled when I set off the fire alarm last weekend. (Note to self: Clean charred refuse off pizza stone next time.)

Where do you go for pizza in your area—that is, if you go out for it at all?

When I'm in New York I like to head down the street to Frankie & Fanucci's Wood Oven Pizzeria in Hartsdale, which serves up tasty thin-crust pies and great appetizers and salads, a huge plus in any pizzeria. I also like Pinoccho's Pizza & Subs in Harvard Square a couple of times a week. My favorite pizza ever has to be Artichoke, though my NYC pizza experience is pretty limited.

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

Pizza is really tasty and should be fun to eat. Regional antagonism and obsessive purism are contrary to the ethos of true pizza lovers everywhere. Dissing stuffed pizza doesn't make Neapolitan pizza any more delicious, and vice versa.

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