John Arena makes a pizza with the ease of someone tying their shoe. He can teach, talk, toss and transform a few simple ingredients into something other-worldly to eat, in about the time it’s takes you to read these first few paragraphs.
At the drop of a hat, he’ll also tell you all about extended dough fermentation*, and how you can detect quality in the practice of pizza professionals by the bubbles on the cooked crust. (Long fermentation of the sourdough = bubbly crust = crispy/soft/yeasty/tang to the bite.)
He’s also one of our great restaurant philosophers on the theory and practice of successful operations — especially as concerns whether a place needs to grow and change with the times, or stick to doing a few things well. (He is more in the latter camp, while ELV swings both ways, depending on how the economic winds are blowing.) More young whippersnappers should pay attention to his advice and his operation — still going strong for over thirty years.
Arena, like Pizza Bianco’s Chris Bianco (and many others) thinks the type of oven isn’t as important as the care and feeding of what goes into it. Here is a recent essay of his for www.pizzaquest.com on the importance (or not) of your heat source for baking your pies. In his opinion, it all comes down to different strokes for different pizzaiolos:
HEATING THINGS UP
By John Arena
Lately, like many of us across the country I’ve been thinking about heat. Now, I’m no stranger to intense heat. I’ve been working in front of a pizza oven for over 40 years and I live in Las Vegas where one day last week the temperature topped out at 119 degrees. So, let’s just say heat is a big part of my life.