Joe Pergolizzi is a pizzaiolo, who founded “The Fire Within”. The company, located in Boulder, Colorado, creates Mobile Pizza Ovens, and offers a total support system for those interested in succeeeding in the the pizza business. For Joseph this is a sacred mission. The Fire Within also offers classes, workshops, encouragement and assistance. This is an entire organization dedicated to pizza success through artisan pizza creation.
On their website, Joseph explains:
“We took the age old concept of a wood fired oven on a trailer and modernized it for today’s use. In addition to manufacturing a practical line-up of mobile pizza ovens and we created the tools you need to be set up for success.
After a fiery debate, our 100+ customers across North America agreed upon a collective mission. It is the intention of the Fire Within mobile pizza caterers to save the world from common, cardboard-box-pizza one wood-fired pizza at a time. Taste testers welcome.”
I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Joseph. I totally raked him over the coals and asked him the tough questions!
He was always gracious and very forthcoming.
Albert: It seems to me that your company has lots of different hats…
Please tell me what exactly is “Fire Within”?
Joseph: Simply, Fire Within offers a turnkey mobile wood fired oven business. In addition to manufacturing almost a dozen custom mobile wood fired oven designs we offer entrepreneurs the necessary tools to succeed and welcome them into a community where they can thrive. For those that need a business plan we’ve written a comprehensive 200 page business manual called Rolling In The Dough that has over 6 years of professional advice on running your own business. For those that would like hands on training and a business intensive our hands on Getting Started workshops are designed for the first timer as well as the accomplished chef. We started our own mobile pizza oven business over 6 years ago which we still do some select catering events and concerts here in Boulder.
Albert: Do you remember your first pizza? How did you get interested in making pizza?
Joseph: I actually do remember my first pizza. My parents have this photo of me in my high chair eating a slice of pizza from Denino’s with a bottle of beer on my table.
As a young kid I remember looking over the counter at pizzaeria’s and I would stare at the guys making pizza. I was so curious about the dough I couldn’t quite figure out what the texture was of dough – was it wet? soft? fragile?….
Albert: Where are you from Joseph? Where did you grow up?
Joseph: I was born in Brooklyn hours after my parents had pizza at Spumoni Gardens. (True story) They raised us in Staten Island.
Albert: Can you share some early memories of pizza?
Joseph: There are so many. One was a constant occurrence as a teenager. I would scrounged up change from everywhere across the house to get a slice of pizza at the pizzeria in front of the bus stop. Another funny one was eating an entire pie with my best friend on the curb in front of Gino’s pizzeria on Staten Island. We somehow thought it was going to be an impossible task to eat an entire 18’’ pie. After we both had 4 slices we both thought we would be stuffed. We weren’t. We ordered 2 more slices, each.
Albert: Can you explain some of your influences for your pizza?
Joseph: My influences may not be your ordinary influences as other people in the pizza community. Art, a great painting as Color and not too many flavors all at once. The sauce should be as pure as possible.
Albert: What is the most important the crust or the toppings?
Joseph: Ouch, tough question. A good pizza can not have a lacking crust. Toppings you can take off.
Albert: What is your favorite pizza? Why?
Joseph: This is a strange answer.
Peter Reinhart says, there are 2 kinds of pizza. The one that you share with a friend and then there is the one that has carefully selected ingredients. The first kind is my favorite pizza. Interestingly enough my favorite pizza changes every few years. For the past 2 years it’s been a white pizza with kalamata olives, rosemary, with parmigiana and either ricotta cheese or another kind of cheese.
Albert: What is the best pizza in Colorado?
Albert: The U.S???
Joseph: The Sicilian slice at Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn is hands down the best Sicilian you will ever eat. No disrespect to those that like to make it, but it’s futile. They figured it out. I don’t make a Sicilian pie out of respect. They achieved perfection. There is one one Sicilian pie. Everything else falls somewhere between Chicago pizza and Focaccia.
Thin crust pizza is either Joe and Pat’s in Staten Island (they won best pizza in NYC) or Denino’s. It’s the subtleties in NY pizzerias. The napkins, the grenade chilli flake dispensers. Whether it’s the table cloths or the tables that make you feel like your back in Junior High. Some say it’s all about the water. Ok. Sure. Whatever makes sense to people. If it’s not from NY it’s Neo-american pizza. I stand with the rest of the NY loyalists who speak the truth
Respect needs to be given to Crust, Tony G’s in SF, Tony Calzone at Rebbecca’s, Jay Jerrier of Cane Rosso in Dallas, Chris Bianco in AZ, Matt Tierney at Pele’s in FL. For each of their own credit they have done our craft good.
Albert: Favorite pizzaioli?
Joseph: Honestly and I may have touched on this here or in other places and I truly don’t mind sticking my neck out on this…. it’s about the passion, it’s about the love of wanting to make someone happy, it’s all the simplicity that comes along with pizza. how easy it is to eat, how easy it is to make. my favorite pizzaioli is the one that never stops learning, holds no secrets, welcomes everyone over to the table to eat and makes pizza regardless if they got paid or not.
The joy of cooking with wood.
Albert: What are your best tips for making pizza?
Joseph: Depending on your comfort level, years making pizza —For starters, focus on Color, Pizza is simple. leave space to where you can see the crust through the sauce. less is more. most of the time it;s one main ingredient takes the center stage, then it has one or 2 back up singers and then a little bit of flair with some spices.
Albert: What type of flour do you use?
Albert: Do you feel using great flour is critical for great pizza?
Joseph: Absolutely, but you can have a great flour but still make a lousy pizza.
Albert: It seems that The fire With-in has created a type of pizza community.
How do you stay in touch?
Joseph: The people I’ve been lucky to meet and speak with over the years are truly special. They are following their passion, leaving career’s, mortgaging their house, building their own pizza empires.
I was sharing this story with my father the other day – the day after GM laid off 5,000 workers an ex-employee called me and said “ I just lost my job and I’m looking for something new to do. I want to do something I love, something that is for me.” I’ve heard so many stories just like that. To hear people share their dreams of owning their own business or wanting to make a difference in people’s lives through food is very special, it’s changed my life to witness this time and time again. I’m humbled.
Albert: You have a unique pizza philosophy?
Joseph: Pizza presence and meaning is bigger than I fail to realize sometimes.
I had a student once who was so bent on making authentic Neapolitan pizza. He stressed he wanted to learn the authentic tradition and that it was the best way to make pizza. What he had a difficult time understanding was that he was very far removed from what pizza meant to him. Being genuine comes from within, not from a recipe book. People can tell when you care. The only way you can screw up a pizza is thinking that you know everything there is to know about pizza.
Pizza promotes conversation. Pizza is an art form to be appreciated. Pizza is comfort food. The only way to ruin a nice meal is to think that you know what good pizza is and the person you are eating it with doesn’t
The experience of eating pizza:
Eating a slice of pizza is unlike eating anything else. Being able to grab a slice of pizza at a deck oven pizzeria fold it in half, walk with it while eating it or sit down and eat it at a small table. It’s a meal, it’s a snack. You don’t just time having a slice around meal time. It’s comfort food. People have a slice as part of their routine in life or they go to a sit down pizzeria every Friday night or call in an order to be picked up.
Wood fired pizza:
Wood fired pizza is it’s own unique pizza experience. It’s like having a third party join you for the meal, in this case it’s the fire. Even though it’s not sitting down with you at the table we are acutely aware that this food was made with fire. It has an impact on the meal, on the conversation.
I’m fortunate enough to be part of something very special with these mobile ovens. Mobile wood fired oven caterers are promoting them and making these 2 pizza experiences available and accessible.
Making Pizza as a profession or a hobby can be very satisfying.
For us pizza fanatics stepping back and looking at how much we get from pizza can be quite a shock.I’m not sure how VPN fits into my philosophy. It has a place in pizza culture but it’s not near my top of ways I relate to pizza.
Albert: Tell me more about the pizza school and how one can enroll….
We host our getting started with your own mobile wood fired oven business 6 times a year. In 2012 we will be adding a few other workshops to our offering, specifically advanced wood fired oven cooking. Peter Reinhart will join us next year for a 3 day workshop. He taught an advanced cooking class for us last year and it was a huge success. We have taught over 200 people how to start their own mobile pizza business. After just the first day the group comes together like a family. A small community is born. People see how similar we all are, we all like fire, we all love pizza, we all are independent souls, we are all searching for something new. I teach people to make their business an extension of themselves. I don’t think enough people were given permission or shown the way on how to do that.
Albert: Where is The Fire Within headed?
Joseph:: We have a number of great projects in the works. Some will be cut from our business plan but I think we’ll have a few really cool things to offer artisan chefs and entrepreneurs in 2012. We are really excited to talk more about it shortly.
Albert: Please add anything else you like.
Joseph: I once spoke with Jim Leahy from Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. I was really impressed by his continuous pursuit to perfect his craft. He’s mastered great dough recipes and he still had the fire to learn more to still be humbled by the knowledge still yet to be learned. Someone so accomplished yet still looking at things from a beginners mind. Artisanship is a pursuit, not an accomplishment. The respectable bakers and chefs are the ones that encourage and make something feel obtainable. I think this type of genuine humility in chefs/teachers is rare.
Thanks so much Joseph. We wish you continued success.
The Fire Within
PO Box 1563, Boulder, Colorado 80306
Pizza on Earth, Good Will to All!
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