Pizza Obsessives: Brooks Jones, Pizza Documentary Maker
You may know Brooks Jones from either his pizza blog (Me, Myself, and Pie) or from the comments here on Slice (where he goes by pizzacommander). He's been shooting a documentary film on pizza for the last year. We checked in with this "pizza obsessive" to see where that's at. —The Mgmt.
So what's the deal? You started Me, Myself, and Pie when you started work on a pizza documentary, right?
That's right. I decided to embark on a film about pizza in the summer of 2009 and figured I would need to keep track of all the places I'd visit and pizza I'd eat. Considering the majority of these adventures are spent unaccompanied, Me, Myself, and Pie was born. While I don't have the time to update as frequently as I'd like to (I have a backlog of, like, 12 pizza joints), it has served as an invaluable tool in meeting some great pizzaphiles all around the world.
How far along are you in the shooting? When do you hope to have it finished?
I started officially shooting last December when 60 Greenpoint Avenue began undergoing the transformation from a vacant property into the killer pizzeria that is now Paulie Gee's. Over the past few months my vision for the film has changed course and transformed into a concept that I'm very excited about. I'm eager to share the creative plan with everyone shortly, but the last thing I want to do is rush a film that deserves a great amount of care and focus. In short, I'm looking at a spring 2012 release.
In the course of shooting the film, you went from "pizza obsessive" to pizza-maker, right? I've seen you manning the oven at Paulie Gee's. Are you still there or was that a limited-time-only thing?
Oh man, I love making pizza.I've been making pies for about three years now, but I didn't really know what I was doing up until about nine months ago. Pizza-making may not be everyone's cup of Gragnano, but it has taught me so much about this food and deepened my respect for the individuals who know how to make a great pie. I've sadly had to cut back my hours at Paulie's to make enough time to focus on the documentary, but I still love working a couple times a month, I truly feel at home there.
Did you have pizza-making experience before working at Paulie Gee's?
I was between jobs in February, which left me a lot of time to make pizza at home (generally a pie a day). When Jason Fierman (I Dream of Pizza) mentioned an opening at Pulino's, I considered applying just for the hell of it but figured I'd mention it to Paulie first. "Come work for me instead," he said, and I'm glad I did. Making a pizza or two a night at home is one thing, but making 50 in a few hours really provides for a great learning experience.
What did you learn being on that side of the counter?
I've learned so many dough-stretching techniques it's not even funny. We have one called "The Eqyptian," another called "The Irishman" — every time I come in, Derek (Paulie's younger son) has a new one to demonstrate. It's a blast. I've learned a lot from working with Paulie and Derek and the rest of the crew there, especially how to make a well-balanced pizza, keeping every ingredient and topping in control. It also doesn't hurt to have experience tending that beast of an oven he's got in there.
This might be impossible to answer, but what type of pizza do you prefer?
That is a difficult question to answer. I am not very discriminating when it comes to pizza; I'll scarf just about anything. That being said, I don't think it gets any better than a perfectly balanced Neapolitan-style Margherita or gooey chewey New York slice.
I envy the folks who grew up on legendary pizza, but I can't say I had a very flavorful childhood as far as pizzerias go. I was raised on franchise pizza chains and thin-crust tavern-cut pies at places like Carbone's in Minneapolis. Most of the mom-and-pop places from my youth were pretty solid, but moving to New York was a pie-opening experience. The PCT doesn't exist for me or all I'd want is Pizza Hut, but, yes, my taste has definitely evolved, especially over the past year.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
I like my fair share of toppings, but I love a perfect Margherita, it's my "scientific control" as a pizza blogger. If you can't make a decent plain pie, you have no business covering it up with crazy toppings.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
Between living in Park Slope and working in the West Village, I love Joe's, Kesté, Pizza Booth, Franny's, and Tomato and Basil, but nothing beats the pies at Paulie Gee's.
Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?
I make anywhere between two to five pizzas a week, depending on how driven I am to try out a new technique or recipe tweek. My recipe is somewhat of a cross between Jeff Varasano's and the recipe they use at Roberta's. It usually ends up being somewhere between 68 to 70 percent hydration. I use a wild Brooklyn culture of yeast I cultivated, but I just got a new strain from Ischia I can't wait to play with.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
Anything is fair game. I respect the Neapolitan die-hards, without which pizza authenticity would be nonexistent, but I believe in the pie's higher power to pull otherwise unthinkable ingredient combinations together onto one slice.
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
One time Scott Wiener (Scott's Pizza Tours) made a pizza with gorgonzola, almonds, and grapes. Weird? Yes. Tasty? Hell yeah.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
I recently got back from a trip out to San Francisco. I can't honestly say the trip was designed around pizzeria stops, but I hit 11 places in four days. Does that count?
Yes. It does. Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
I know this might offend you, Adam, but I can't stand Sally's Apizza. There, I said it.
No biggie. If there's one thing I've learned over the almost 7 years I've been Slice-ing, it's that taste in pizza is totally subjective. I will continue to like Sally's pizza even though the service leaves something to be desired.... Anyway, who would you like to see interviewed next?
You've covered a lot of great people! I'm trying to remember, have you gotten Pizza Blogger or Jeff Krupman (Pizza Hacker)? They have great opinions on pizza!
Crap! I haven't gotten Pizza Blogger to give up his Q&A yet. Huge oversight on my part. But, yeah, we've talked to Pizza Hacker Jeff here. I'll ping PB now. Thanks for the nudge, and thanks for playing along here. It's been fun. I can't wait till the movie comes out. Hasta la pizza!