By now you know dhorst from the comments here and her many entries into the My Pie Monday series. Here, she talks to Joe Orapello, a mobile wood-oven pizza operator in New York's Capital Region. Thanks for the Q&A, dhorst! And for the tip on another good pizza option in the area. —The Mgmt.
A few months ago, my good buddy and fellow Slice'r, dmcavanagh and I were chatting about mobile wood-fired pizza ovens. He mentioned hearing about a guy in the New York State Capital Region with a mobile wood-fired oven, Orapello's Wood Fired Pizza. I happened to catch wind that they would be at a Fall Festival/Pride of New York event in Oneida, about an hour away from where we live. My husband and I decided to check out their pizza and their mobile oven.
When we arrived, Joe Orapello was manning the oven with a very cool, custom-made metal peel. He was super friendly and we talked about sourdough starters, flour, pizza styles (he makes Neapolitan), and his mobile oven.
When it came time to order, Orapello immediately suggested the prosciutto with arugula and balsamic drizzle. Other specialty pizzas offered were Buffalo chicken, and pesto with roasted red peppers. Just cheese with pepperoni, sausage, or mushroom was also on the menu. We went for the prosciutto-arugula pizza.
Less than two minutes in the oven and our pizza was out, finished off postoven with the arugula, balsamic, and some Grana Padano cheese. The crust stood up nicely to the toppings with just the right amount char on the bottom. The cornicione was airy and had a soft chew to it. The balance between the toppings had a synergy; the saltiness of the prosciutto, the peppery arugula and the tangy sweetness of the balsamic played off of each other in a wonderful way. My husband was astounded by just how good it was.
It was midday, and business was picking up, so rather than take up more of Orapello's time, I asked him if I could contact him later with questions that I thought fellow Slice'rs would be interested in. So folks, here you go, a little Q&A with Joe Orapello, after the jump.
How long did it take for you to get used to using a wood oven?
It took longer than I thought it would. I'm learning more as I go along.
What kind of wood do you use in your oven?
I use all kinds of hardwood, including maple, ash, and apple and cherry when I can get it. I've learned the hard way to only use locust when I want to get some quick heat. The first time I used the oven I burned about 10 pizzas. I realized later that I was using too much locust. (It has one of the highest BTU ratings.)
How long does it take for the oven to come up to temperature?
I will use locust to get it up to temperature in about 30 to 40 minutes.
How much wood do you go through an hour?
It depends how many pizzas I have to get out, but I would say around four pieces an hour.
I really like your custom metal peel. Where did you get it?
Frankie G — fgpizza.com.
What other ovens and cooking methods have you used for making pizza?
I have tried many, including Jeff Varasano's self-clean-cycle option in our Kenmore Elite. It actually worked very well (950°F) until I broke the door window when a drop of San Marzano tomato hit it; it just shattered. So that ended the residential oven method. I moved on to the outside grill, lining it with fire bricks. This method didn't produce the high temperature I needed for Neapolitan.
You've been in business for around a year. How long did you spend coming up with your dough formula?
It took me three years to figure it out. However, to this day I am still learning different techniques to make it better.
Your ideal dough consists of Caputo "00" flour, water, starter, and salt. What are your ideal fermentation and proofing times?
I use purified spring water and Sicilian salt, and I have achieved a total fermentation and proofing time of 18 hours. This method had nothing to do with a refrigerator, although I do use it occasionally.
What is the most important component of pizza: crust, sauce or cheese?
Oh, I always believed that each plays its own special part in making a great pizza. All of the flavors complement one another.
What does your sauce consist of? Do you cook it first at all?
I just use a brand of San Marzano's that I prefer. When I prepare it, it goes on just tomatoes. When my brother prepares it he adds a little garlic and oregano. (I have to talk to him about this....) If you use the right tomatoes, there is no need to cook first. The tomatoes cook at the oven's high temperature. My opinion, of course.
What's your personal favorite pizza on your menu?
I prefer the prosciutto, arugula, with balsamic drizzle. However, most of the time I just go with pizza Margherita.
We had the prosciutto and arugula pizza with the balsamic drizzle. It was fantastic. What exactly is it made up of?
San Marzano tomatoes, and I do add garlic to this, along with freshly ground pepper. Also, first cold-pressed olive oil that is one of the best in the U.S. Topped with mozzarella and Grana Padano.
What's your day job?
PBX system engineer.
What kind of events do you like to cater?
We really enjoy doing corporate or personal parties. Seems like it is more relaxed when we are doing these. However, we also have a good time when we need to push out 250 pizzas at a big event. Tough call; they're all enjoyable.
Will you be operating during the winter for any winter fests or catering requests?
If I can keep my dough warm, I will. Working on that now. I prefer to use our own dough balls compared to our own par-baked crusts.
Do you see possibly opening a pizzeria?
It is my dream to do this. I have been told so many times that our product needs to be more than just mobile. We get asked countless amount of times, "Where is your pizzeria? We have to go there." I'm waiting for the right opportunity, and I want it to be in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady area.
What is it that you like most about pizza?
What is the first slice of pizza you remember having? Style? From where? How has your taste in pizza changed over the years?
My mother's pizza was the first. It was her own hybrid style pizza that all of us loved. Her crust was crisp, and a little thick, along with the precooked pizza sauce or just tomatoes...homemade sausage sizzling on it .It was the best...and yes we all would do anything for a piece of that pizza. She passed away years ago and ignited my passion for cooking Italian. She would love this pizza, and she would be very proud, but her pizza will always be the best.
My taste of pizza changed because I believe that going back to the original style of any food is always the best for me. Therefore, I tried to come up with the best Neapolitan that I could.
I love New York–style, Chicago-style, and any other style. But I prefer wood-fired Neapolitan pizza. Not just wood-fired pizza, but Neapolitan wood-fired pizza. There is a big difference between the two.
Hopefully I have come close to re-creating true Neapolitan wood-fired pizza. The passion never ends.
Thank you, Joe, for a great pizza and answering some questions. If anyone wants to see photos of the oven, you can see them on the Orapello's website: