Thursday, August 07, 2008

Interview with Jeff Ruby Co-Author of Everybody Loves Pizza

With Everybody Loves Pizza, Jeff Ruby and his co-author Penny Pollack, take their book on a unique pizza quest.

There are many things to like about this book. For starters, Ruby and Pollack break down American pizza into four distinct zones: California, Chicago, New York and New Haven, (Connecticut). After discovering that fact, I was hooked!

The pizza tales and side-bars make this a fascinating read. The historical perspective of the unsung heroes of pizza will enlighten you.
There are recipes and over 500 pizzerias recommended.

The following is an exclusive interview with Jeffy Ruby.

Albert: How did you come up with the idea of a pizza book?

Jeff Ruby: The idea was pitched to us by Emmis Books, and we ran with it. Our idea was to make it as accessible as possible. That's where all the sidebars came in-we tossed in every goofy pizza-related idea that was interesting.

Where else could we could talk about our favorite pizza moments on Seinfeld, or give props to the pizza deliverymen at Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis who wear super hero outfits? Instead of a critical look at pizza, this book is a celebration of pizza.

Albert: The book features tons of stories and tidbits. Did you and your partner personally conduct the interviews? How were you able to get such detailed information for your stories?

Jeff Ruby: We did months and months of interviews for the book-talked to hundreds of pizzeria owners and chefs and ordinary pizza-loving civilians. People never get tired of talking about pizza. There was also plenty of secondary research involved. We looked at pizza from an academic/historical approach, but also from the standpoint of two people who really love pizza.

Albert: The book lists over 500 pizza recommendations. How many of those pizzerias did you actually visit?
How were you able to get such a wide range of pizzerias listed?

Jeff Ruby: We probably ate more pizza than any two people in the country in the past year. We obviously didn't visit all of the
places in the book.

(We've got day jobs, writing about food for Chicago Magazine.)

We relied on the recommendations of friends and enemies and pizza experts and food writers around the country. Then we hit the internet. Great sites like were invaluable to us.

After awhile, the same places starting coming up, and we'd generally call the pizzeria to get more information. Both Penny and I made trips around the country, and every time we traveled for any other reason, we sought out the best pizza in the area.

Albert: I particularly liked the way you divided the country in to 4 pizza zones: California, Chicago, New York and New Haven.

How did a writer from Chicago know that New Haven is such an
influence and has such unique pizza. How did you pick the zones?

Jeff Ruby: The zones picked themselves. We're students of history, and the more research we did, the more obvious it became that New York, Chicago, New Haven, and California were the Big Four of pizza. They had the best stories, the most interesting histories, and probably the best pizzas.

Albert: Some of your material seems to echo Peter Reinhart's American Pie such as the Ed LaDou story of being the main
pizzaiolo for Wolfgang Puck and California Pizza Kitchen. Did you feel a need to see Ed gets the recognition he deserves? Did you discover any other unsung heros of pizza?

Jeff Ruby: If our research taught us anything, it's that Ed LaDou should be a household name. He is a creative guy who was in the right place at the right time. Twice.

But there was a certain poignancy to the fact that this modest guy essentially launched two huge empires from the shadows, then went back to his roots to run his own small pizzeria. People are finally starting to recognize him, which is great. He's earned it . . .

As far as other unsung heroes: Ric Riccardo, Ike Sewell's partner in the original Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1943, has never gotten the credit he deserved.

No one knows for sure who invented deep-dish pizza, which only adds to its legend. But Sewell's name has always been associated with it (maybe because he lived
longer and knew how to market it better), while Riccardo has become an historical footnote.

The other unsung heroes of pizza? Delivery drivers. I did it for two years back in grad school in Kansas, and it was brutal.

Albert: Were there any pizza tales that did not make it in to the
book? Can you share one with our readers?

Jeff Ruby: There was plenty left on the cutting room floor. We could have filled two books.

I really wanted to get this quote in the book, but wasn't able to: Owner Eddie Garza, on the claustrophobic atmosphere at
his Main Street Pizza & Pasta in San Antonio, TX: "I wouldn't eat at my restaurant. There are too many people here."

There was also a story about Anthony's Pizza Cafe (Orlando, FL), which had a contest in 2002 to see who could eat the most two-pound slices of its famed stuffed pizza. The winner polished off four. "We almost had to call the paramedics," said partner Anthony Marku. His prize: 30 days of no-limit eating at Anthony's. I love stuff like that.

One of my favorite stories was about this web phenomenon called "geocaching," in which people place items called "travel bugs" in public places with a specific goal in mind for the object (say, for it to visit 10 countries, or simply to be
photographed with large carrots), in order to "live vicariously through inanimate objects."

Well, of course, some pizza fanatic had to get involved. He took his family on a vacation in Florida, and while he was there, he left a small plastic pizza
toy behind, attached to a dog tag that contained a tracking number and a web address.

The person who found it next logged on to the web site, and was met with this message: "If you find the bug, take it out for a pizza and then help it find its way
back to geocache site at Cathedral Pines in Mio, Michigan. And by the way, where is the best pizza in the world???"

Over the next two years, the "pizza bug" hitchhiked 2,141 miles around America. Dozens of people who found it logged on to the site and !reported where they'd "taken it out" for pizza-some including digital photos of themselves
with the bug-before leaving it for someone else to find.

Albert: How did you and your partner choose the top 10 pizzerias?
Was it a difficult choice. Did you choose a number 11?

Jeff Ruby: Good question. The answer is, we ate a lot of pizzas and learned to tell a good pizza from a bad one-and great one from a good one. I'd say we had a short list of about 30 or 40 places that we wanted to put on the list, but we had to narrow
it down to ten.

That task wasn't particularly fun...OK, it was fun. Really fun. Among the places that almost made the list: John's, DiFara, and Totonno's in New York, Zachary's in Oakland, A16 in San Francisco, Pizzeria Due in Chicago, Al
in Providence.

Albert: In addition to being a great resource for pizza, you also feature a number of pizza recipes. Was it difficult to get chefs to contribute their favorite recipes?

Jeff Ruby: Some were easier than others. There were a bunch of chefs who said "No way," when we asked them. Why would they give us a
secret that they'd been keeping to themselves for years. At one pizzeria, Giovanni's in Las Vegas, the owner worked side by side with his mother, who wouldn't even give him her meatball recipe.

Another place, Skipolini's in Clayton, California, has its pizza recipe in a safe. "In case I die," says owner Kent Ipsen, "My wife can open the safe and get the recipe, so the restaurant can go on and my kids can keep eating." Others were
thrilled to contribute.

Albert: What's next for you and your partner? Do you plan on
updating Everybody Loves Pizza?

Jeff Ruby: We're hoping the book goes to more printings, but beyond
that, we're just enjoying the moment.

you can see a vidoe review of my favorite pizza books, here.

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pizza on earth,

Albert Grande

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