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Pizza maker rises to the occasion

Pizza maker Chris Walsh says pepperoni is the most overrated ingredient in pies – why not try bacon or even a good pastrami? “Pepperoni is very greasy and tends to give you heartburn. There are a lot of better meat options out there,” said Walsh, 23, of Crazy Dough’s Pizza in Boston, who can spin, sauce, and flour a pizza in under two minutes during lunchtime rush, when every moment counts.

If there’s such a thing as a professional pizza maker, Walsh is it. At age 15, he was washing dishes at a pizza joint in North Carolina, then had another two-year stint in high school working the counter for a major pizza chain. Between jobs at various other pizza shops, he wore a shirt and tie and worked for a temp agency – an experience that drove him back to his fallback, pizza. “Sitting in an office nine hours a day with a phone and a call sheet was so boring,” said Walsh, who is also studying management at UMass-Boston. “This is a lot more fun.”

Pizza is a $36 billion dollar industry in the U.S., and the traditional handmade pizza crust topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella is getting a boost from online and text messaging ordering as well as gourmet, upscale ingredients such as cream cheese, cashews, crab and banana peppers. One franchise is even promoting the use of green technology, with eco-friendly ovens that use less energy. At Crazy Dough’s, Walsh says one of the top sellers is a potato bacon cheddar topped with ranch dressing and scallions. He also personally loves slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top of a margarita pizza (also made with roasted tomato, aged parmesan, fresh basil, and olive oil). “It’s cool to see the mozzarella turn into white splotches on the pizza. It’s chewy and deliciously awesome.”

Q: What’s your favorite music to cook by?
A:
Before the doors open up in the morning, we set the tone for the day by putting on “Take it Easy” by the Eagles. This is when we clean the oven, degreasing and polishing it to a satin finish. When things heat up, we get our heart rates going by rocking to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and the Doors; after the rush, we listen to Johnny Cash to slow down the momentum.

Q: What’s the secret to tossing a pizza?
A:
I start with a dough ball, stretching the dough evenly with my fingertips to even out it out. When I toss it into the air, I use the momentum from my right hand to gain momentum to spin it outward. Centrifugal force causes the dough to expand. The goal is create a nice circle with the dough as thin as a blanket but thick enough so you can’t see through it. If I happen to snag a hole, I pinch the dough together in that spot. It’s all about trial and error and seeing the rough spots coming. It takes about 10 pizzas to get the hang of it. The first one is usually awful.

Q: Your shop makes about 100-200 pizzas a day. Is this a stressful job?
A:
It can be, especially if you happen to get a big catering order on top of the usual crowd. But you need to buck up, be a man, and learn to roll with the punches. There’s no time to get hot-headed; it’s a long day next to a scorching oven so you want to stay as cool as possible.

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