Brothers Write a Love Letter to a Food We All Love — Pizza

December 2, 2020

NEW YORK — Let Thanksgiving have the turkey. Let Christmas have fruitcake. Every other day, it's got to be pizza.

So argue Thom and James Elliot, brothers and pizza makers from England who have written a book celebrating the worldwide phenomenon of roundish dough cooked with toppings.

In the 270-page "Pizza" (Quadrille), the brothers offer over 30 recipes for homemade pizzas — including a carbonara and one with asparagus and pancetta — as well as eating guides to delicious slices in cities like Rome, Paris, Chicago and New York. It turns out New Haven, Connecticut, has a very distinct and vibrant pizza scene, though its just 70 miles from New York.

The Elliots marvel that while the pizza we eat today was invented in Naples in the late 1800s, other cultures have their own versions, from one with spiced ground meat in Lebanon to a baguette topped with mushroom and cheese in Poland.

"All these countries came up with this on their own. And that is the definition of a good idea, right?" says James Elliot. "It's a bit like the way so many cultures created beer independently. Just great ideas make it through." 

The brothers include sections on controversial ingredients — pineapple, that's you — and which drinks to pair with a slice, as well as the various ways people can eat it, from rolling it into a cigar to a technique called the "snag and drag." 

They present the info without judgement, refusing to weigh in on whether coal ovens are better than wood or if buffalo milk is better than cow milk for making mozzarella.

"There's that saying: There's two kinds of people in the world — people that love ABBA and liars," says James Elliot. "Not all music has to be high and mighty in the same way that not all pizza has to be high and mighty. You can love different songs and different pizzas for all kinds of different reasons."

The origins of the book began when the brothers ditched their regular jobs in 2012 to go to Naples and learn all about pizza. They traveled the length of Italy and the world and, once educated in all things delicious, came back to the United Kingdom to open a chain of pizzerias, Pizza Pilgrims. 

In Chicago, they encountered that city's famous, dense variation. "We ate four deep dishes a day for five days," says Thom Elliot. "I really surprised myself. I went to confirm my hatred of it, but actually left being like, 'This has got a place for sure.'" 

The book is a distillation of all they learned, from pizza records ("Cheesiest Pizza," "Furthest Pizza Delivery") to how to work with active dry yeast. The working title was "The Pizzapedia," but the authors felt that didn't convey their love of the food. "Encyclopedia just feels quite cold and quite factual," says Thom Ellliot.

"We've been told by so many people in so many different ways that pizza is not enough to carry a book. 'There are not enough interesting things to say about pizza.' And so we have been on this mission for five years to write a longer and longer and longer and longer list of why these people are wrong."

Despite the brothers' obvious respect for the classic Neapolitan version, they acknowledge the impact of the huge pizza-making chains, like Pizza Hut and Domino's. The book includes interviews with their executives, who oversee companies making millions of pizzas a year. 

"You can't ignore it. They're doing something right. Whatever you think, they're doing something right," says Thom Ellliot. "They love pizza. These are not people who are just sitting there going, 'Oh, we don't care. It's just all about the margin and how do we sell more for less.'"

Pizza, to the brothers, is clearly woven into the fabric of humanity, a cheap, delicious, satisfying meal that can be scaled up or down. It's a food we eat when we are celebrating, gathering for entertainment, working hard collectively or when we're just in need of a hug. 

"Pizza is the place that people turn when they're struggling, when they break up, when they lose their job, when they're just having a tough day. Pizza is the food that they talk about — like their spouse — that thing that carries them over the line," says Thom Ellliot.

"I really genuinely think that you don't get that with any other kind of food, even the ones that people obsess about, like barbeque. People don't turn to barbecue in their time of need. They geek out about it and they obsess about it and they see perfection. But they don't have it like a crutch in their life."


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