by Nafeisa Shukair-Farley
As I continue on my “food learning journey,” I have been a Big Mac maker, Bartender, Itamae and now I have a new title to add to my realm: Pizzaiolo! Yes, you read that right, I learned how to make a pizza and at one of the newest places in DFW, Persona Pizza.
Before I go into my pizza learning experience, let’s talk about Persona Pizza. A BYOB pizzeria in Irving, TX, they make, chop, cut, dice, and slice all their ingredients fresh in the kitchen daily. Even the dough is made in-house daily, sometimes twice a day. Since the dough is the pizza’s foundation, Persona uses only the finest ground flour direct from Italy which makes the crust lighter and not so heavy on the tummy.
The in-house made sauces: marinara, margherita, pesto and Bianca are so full of flavor that I wanted to just sit and eat all of them with the serving spoons (we all know how much I love sauce but no worries, it didn’t happen, I was being watched). All the toppings are fresh including the different cheese options, meat, veggies and for our readers who are gluten-free or want a salad, you are covered as well.
Now that you are hungry, let’s talk about me learning to become a Pizzaiolo. My instructor, Shera (the master Pizzaiolo) a wonderful person with a smile brighter than the flames in the pizza oven (which is direct from Italy). After Shera gave me an apron, had me wash my hands and put on gloves, she let me know that I would be making the Chipotle Chicken pizza and a pizza of my choice.
The handmade dough had nicely risen and I placed it on a pillow of Italian flour. I had to push out the dough with my fingertips, flip over, and repeat. Well, let’s just say Shera and to take over cause my crust was not coming out round…it was more of a sphere-triangle shape (y’all know I make good spheres). Watching her in action forming the crust was mesmerizing. She had the dough round in a flash and delicately placed on a clean wooden pizza paddle. I promised myself and Shera I would do better with my next pizza.
Next came the sauce which is a chipotle dressing and it easily glided over the dough from edge-to-edge, this part I mastered. Next came the toppings of in-house made chicken and a generous amount of cheese. Feeling proud and accomplished, Shera told me I had to put the pizza in the oven and slide it off the wooden paddle. This was nerve-wracking because I was worried about spilling the toppings, folding the dough and more. So many bad things could happen but thanks to Shera and her talking me through it, I was able to slide the pizza right onto the hot oven stones
Let’s talk about the oven for a quick moment. Direct from Italy, the 800 degree oven cooks the pizza in 90 seconds. Yes, I said 90 seconds. With this being said, the pizza has to be moved around often to make sure all sides get that nice crusty edge. Shera was explaining that I needed to hold the pizza at an angle to turn it but I just couldn’t figure it out so she demonstrated the method (still smiling) and explained that moving it at an angle helps to turn it and cook evenly.
After 90 seconds, we pulled the pizza out of the oven and put on the rest of the toppings: fresh-made Pico de Gallo and chipotle dressing. Once I cut the pizza and heard the crunch of the crust, I was ready to eat before I made my next pizza. The fresh flavors of chipotle, chicken and Pico on the crispy crust was paradise. Each bite was better than the previous bite.
For my next masterpiece, I wanted to make a pesto, chicken, black olives and cheese pizza. This time, I made the crust round that even pleased Shera. Now spreading the pesto was hard for two reasons: I wanted to eat it directly off the spoon and needed to add a bit of olive oil to help spread it. Once spread, I added chicken and black olives. Next came the cheese…this time it was balls of mozzarella that I had to tear into pieces and top all over the pizza. I just could not resist the yummy mozzarella balls so I popped one into my mouth when Shera was not looking. All Pizzaiolos have to test their product right?
I slid the pizza into the oven and lost a piece of chicken but was quickly forgiven when I showcased my skills of moving the pizza at an angle while turning it. 90-seconds later, I slide the pizza out of the oven admiring at my masterpiece as it required very little assistance from Shera. I retrieved a clean pizza cutter (note: each pizza is cut with a clean cutter as to not mix different flavors from other pizzas). I looked a Sheila and her smile clearly said that I was now an honorary Pizzaiolo.