Pizza Obsessives: James W. Schulman (aka 'jamesws')
What type of pizza do you prefer?
Well-made ones. I am a thin crust guy, even though I live in Chicago. I agree with the Great One (Ed) that deep-dish pizza isn't pizza...it's a casserole.
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'm the youngest of three boys, so my childhood was basically forgotten. However, the story goes that one day, when I was still a baby, my mom was driving home with a takeout pizza next to me and I kept reaching for it. So she said, "Well, it won't kill him." That was my first solid food and I've been hooked ever since.
Though I don't know exactly where it was from, I'm sure it was thin, New York style. I grew up outside of Boston, in Wellesley. At the time, there were about a dozen pizza places—half of them Greek and the rest New York style. I was always a fan of Danny's (New York style). Unfortunately, it no longer exists.
I have always been a thin crust guy. I have a long-standing argument with my mother-in-law—she thinks Malnati's makes the best pizza (besides mine), while I wouldn't waste the calories on their deep-dish pies.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
I am partial to Margherita. So simple, yet it truly shows off how well a pie is made.
The Rosa (red onion, Parmigiano, and pistachios) at Bianco was fabulous.
I make a lot of white pies with garlic and hot peppers, which is always a crowd-pleaser.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
I usually make it at home. If I'm in the neighborhood, I might stop at Piece or Coalfire.
Oh we've definitely seen some of your amazing pizzas. So what are you working with recipe-wise at home these days?
Of late I have been using a fairly high hydration recipe, 70% plus with a Ischia yeast culture and a touch of whole wheat. My usual method is in a 550˚ oven cooked on a set of fire bricks (cheap ones too) that I have lining a whole shelf. In addition to My Pie Monday, you can check out my pies on my blog: jamesschulman.blogpost.com (shameless plug!).
So what do you think should NEVER go on a pizza?
We don't eat meat, so that's out for us, but I have no issue with it. I think shrimp is a little weird with cheese, but anything is possible if done right.
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
Likely a nettle pesto pie I once made at home when we got nettles from our produce co-op.
Yikes! That sounds prickly. Did you get stung?
I did get a couple stings before putting on gloves.
What is the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
We lived in Madrid a few years ago, and on our way to Tucson to visit family, we stopped over in Boston. Directly upon landing from London, we met friends at the original Pizzeria Regina in the North End.
That certainly speaks to where your loyalties lie in the Santarpio's/Regina's divide. What is it that you like most about Regina's?
I was never much of a Santarpio's fan. As for Regina's, I think it's just one of those balance things. Its not too sweet, cheesy, charred, or salty. It has that New York style bend, but it is its own thing. It's made with love, passion, and great ingredients and it's simple but comes together to balance the flavors in a way few places can pull off for years.
What do your friends and family think of your pizza madness?
Oh, they love it! So much so that my in-laws put in a pizza oven so that I, I mean they, can make pies more easily.
Whoa, if only all son-in-laws were so lucky! Who would you like to see interviewed next?
Nick Lessins from Great Lake in Chicago.
Yeah, I should probably go in person for that one. Good call! Thanks, James, for taking the time to tell us a little bit more about yourself. Can't wait to see what you pull out of the oven next!