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Pizza Obsessives: Sean Taylor, National Pizza Month Hero

I don't know how long ago it was that I met Sean Taylor online. It's been years, and yet this is the first time I've put him in the hot seat for the Pizza Obsessives treatment. Tsk on me. Every year since 2002 during October (National Pizza Month), Sean has been eating at a new-to-him pizzeria with a different dining companion each day. He documents it all on 31 Days of Pizza. We figured it was a good time to talk to him now that he's wrapped up this year's adventure. The Mgmt.

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[Photograph: Sean Taylor/31daysofpizza.com]

Name: Sean Taylor
Location: New York City
Occupation: Host, actor, improv comedian
URL(s): Pizza Month 2002–2009, seantaylor.us/pizzamonth09.php;
Pizza Month 2010 tracking log, 31daysofpizza.com; seantaylor.us

What type of pizza do you prefer?

I do appreciate variety (since I've been known to eat pizza for 31 straight days), but I can't resist a pie fresh out of a coal-fired brick oven. The heat from the coal makes the crust perfectly crisp on the outside, but incomparably tender on the inside. If it weren't for New York's fire code, I'd install one in my apartment.

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?

For me, it was more like the Pizza Ignition Theory. Being a military brat, I didn't have the standard neighborhood pizzeria during childhood. Moving around the country, I had to adapt to new definitions of pizza as often as I had to adapt to new neighborhoods, friends, and schools. Still, starting with my first slice from the cafeteria lunch lady in elementary school, I was hooked. I can even picture it now on my light yellow compartmented plastic tray in all its rectangular glory, glistening with grease from the partially melted imitation "cheese" layered on top of what I believe to be tomato sauce and bread.

Not surprisingly, the slices with the chopped up pepperoni were the first to go. It wasn't until I moved to California that I was introduced to the circular version of "pizza" at Maxwell Street Pizza in San Bernardino. As it turned out, it didn't matter what the shape or size, as long as it had cheese and lots of sauce, I loved every bit of it.

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Sean Taylor at Benny Tudino's in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Probably one of the most frustrating times on my childhood was when my father was stationed in Izmir, Turkey, where the pizza was served without sauce. Instead of Pizza Hut, they had Pizza Hat. When we asked for tomato sauce, they brought us ketchup — and it wasn't even the good kind! Not until this moment, had I realized just how highly I valued a good slice of all-American pizza.

This made me even more grateful for my years in Junior and Senior High, when my family returned Stateside to Florida. Not only did I proudly work for three different pizza chains, but I finally discovered my favorite slice at Hungry Howie's whose "Wacky Wednesdays" specials were particularly attractive, when a large pizza with one topping cost $3.99. In retrospect, Hungry Howie's gets low marks for ingredient quality but high marks for drowning its pies in sauce. I visited Hungry Howie's on Day 4 of Pizza Month 2010 and savored every bite. I'm sure nostalgia helps, but so does copious amounts of sauce.

My tastes in pizza have evolved drastically thanks to my observance of Pizza Month over the past nine years. What used to be "just fine" is now hardly palatable. I have definitely been spoiled by all of the amazing variety of slices that cities like New York; New Haven, Connecticut; Chicago; and New Orleans have to offer. Would I still go back and eat that rectangular lunch lady slice? Yeah, probably.

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Sean met Mario Batali at Eataly.

What's your favorite topping or topping combination?

Besides the basics like sauce, cheese, olive oil, and basil, I prefer toppings that are savory or spicy — like salame picante, andouille, hot Italian sausage, or the pepperoni served at Patsy's. Add a small amount of onions, and I am in Topping Heaven. And sleeping alone for the night.

Where do you go for pizza in your area?

I live in Midtown West. My favorite place for a street slice is NY Pizza Suprema. If I'm in the mood for something more toppings or named after a Reservoir Dogs character, I go to Two Boots. I take out-of-town visitors to John's on 44th Street. That usually blows their mind. It's nice to have a coal-fired brick oven pizza place between my apartment and Times Square.

Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?

I usually leave the cooking to my lovely (and devoted!) girlfriend, Robin, but when I do make pizza I like trying new things I read on Slice. For instance, while visiting my brother recently, we cooked pizza on his grill. I look for high-quality ingredients from my favorite pizzerias; these include pecorino, fresh mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and maybe some prosciutto or arugula for variety. By the way, grilled pizza is awesome!

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

Ice cream. I love ice cream and pizza but, despite what the Ninja Turtles advocate, the two should remain separate.

Most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?

It's a tie between (1) jambalaya from the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen and (2) mashed potatoes from Bar in New Haven. Both sound unusual but tasted amazing. When the signature slice is something out of the ordinary, I always go for it.

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

Well, let me start by saying that I am always looking for pizza that is out of this world! During Pizza Month 2008, however, I flew to Chicago for four days to taste real Chicago pizza. My goal is to visit Italy during Pizza Month 2011, the 10th anniversary of my original quest to honor the sacred 31 Days of Pizza. On a related note, I have yet to consider the question of whether, if I fly across enough time zones to make it yesterday, I would need to eat pizza again.

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Sean with Paulie Gee and Scott Wiener.

Haven't you already established that eating pizza for 31 consecutive days is feasible? Why keep doing Pizza Month?

Yes. Feasible and delicious! I continue because of the people — people who I have met because of Pizza Month, friends and family who join me in my quest every year and people like the folks reading this now. I love you all. And I'd love you more covered in sauce.

I suppose I could challenge myself, as some have suggested, to eat ""nothing but pizza"" during October or drop the ""with at least one guest"" condition. This would subvert two of pizza's greatest contributions, which are being delicious and bringing people together. I view the annual quest as a celebration not a sentence. Refusing food ""unless you can put it on flatbread"" undermines the experience and takes away from the fun of Pizza Month. Sure pizza is often eaten alone and on-the-go but I prefer to order by the pie and share it among friends. How's next week work for you? "

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Sean at Nomad Pizza in Hopewell, New Jersey, with Adam Kuban.

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

Yes. Your site is more than a resource. By creating SliceNY you have given pizza enthusiasts a meeting place to chat, hone their craft, teach their craft, and learn from each other. Thank you!

Awww, man. Thank you for the kind words. I'm blushing here. ... Now: Who would you like to see interviewed next?

Ed Levine. Just as he advocates in Slice of Heaven, pizza is meant to be eaten together. So, let's get together and eat it!

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