How America’s Fine-Dining Chefs Fell in Love With Artisanal Pizza

Back in the day, most Americans got their pizza from either a cardboard box in the frozen-food aisle or a cardboard box delivered to their front door. But pizza in the United States has since had a glow-up, and many chefs with fine-dining backgrounds are now at the helm of their own pie shops.

Most of the notable pizza spots that you hear of today can trace their lineage to a group of chefs who changed the face of American pizza-making back in the 1980s and ’90s, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. Those pizzaiolos are now household names in the culinary world—people like Chris Bianco, Anthony Mangieri, Peppe Miele, Peter Pastan, and Ruth Gresser.

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Bianco, the chef behind Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix and Los Angeles, is arguably one of the biggest names on the scene. He started slinging pies in the back of a grocery shop in 1988, and in 2003 he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, becoming the first pizzaiolo to earn a regional chef medal. While he doesn’t see himself as the leader of the artisanal pizza movement—preferring instead to place himself in a long lineage of pizza makers—Bianco was one of the first in the U.S. to take local and seasonal ingredients, along with classical techniques, and mesh them with pizza.

“I guess I was blessed to be conscious and look around and notice that there were people making change and making better food,” Bianco told the Post. “I was lucky enough to have a little bit of a skill set.”

Four pizzas from Una Pizza Napoletana
A selection of pizzas from Una Pizza Napoletana

Back when Bianco and his brethren were first churning out their pies, they really only had word of mouth to rely on. But with the advent of the internet and social media, pizza making took off, and more and more people became interested in a world made up of high-quality dough, tomato sauce, and cheese. Younger chefs, in particular, saw pie shops as a cool place where they could flex their culinary muscles.

“They are drawn to the excitement of the pizza business,” Mangieri, the pizzaiola behind New York’s Una Pizza Napoletana, told the Post. “It seems from the outside like something that’s got a lot of potential: It’s exciting and sexy. You’re working with fire.”

That led to a whole new set of pizza places, and now you can find a Neapolitan or similar-style pie practically anywhere you go. And even today, both the new guard and the old guard continue to innovate with their pies: Gresser, who launched Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, D.C., back in 1991, told the Post that her craft continues to evolve.

Just imagine what the American pizza scene will look like another 30 years from now.

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