Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Super Peel: An Interview With Gary Casper

Gary Casper had a pizza problem.

 A BIG Pizza Problem. He was given a pizza stone, but he didn't know how to use it. He was able to make pizza alright, but getting the pizza on and off the stone proved to be a major issue.

 Gary had been given a pizza baking stone similar to this one: Old Stone Oven 4467 14-Inch by 16-Inch  Baking Stone

 Then he had a brilliant idea... Gary and I have been an Internet friends for a number of years. I've always been amazed at his unique way of moving pizza on and off a pizza stone. In the following interview, Gary explains the Secret of The Super Peel: (EXO Limited Edition Super Peel in Solid Cherry! 100% Made in USA)

  Albert: The Super Peel is a new take on an old tool. A peel is used to transfer a pizza on and off a pizza stone (or wood fired oven). Gary how did you come up with the idea of the Super Peel? How does it work?
Gary: This truly was a Father-Daughter project from the getgo. Jen (my youngest) had given me a pizza stone when she was about 9. We tried sliding pizzas from a cardboard sheet and off of a flat baking sheet. Neither worked too well initially. I am sure now that the whole shaking-sliding thing was probably not beyond my abilities with a bit more practice.

 But, impatience and stubbornness and a need to fix things was already kicking in. Generally, we just set off try and incorporate a floured pastry cloth into "something" that pizza wouldn't stick to and that would magically put our pizzas onto our baking stone.

  Albert: How did you first create it? Did you go through a couple of design ideas?

  Gary: Ha, I wish I had pictures of some of the variations. I do still have one early version that was sort of a cloth held between two wooden rods and third rod to move a loop of the fabric. Another one incorporated parts from a car window shade. Fun yes, but getting more complicated all the way. The basic design that is used in the Super Peel today, came as sort of a "bolt out of the blue", a flash of thought that came after having set the whole project aside for a while. It was so simple and elegant!

  Albert: What gave you idea that the Super Peel would be popular with pizza makers and home chefs?

  Gary: A lot of research: books, magazines, internet, etc. all led to the confirmation that we were not the only ones with this dough transfer problem. We were clearly focused on pizza initially. Regarding possible patenting, what is important is that which has already been done or described before - referred to as "prior art".

 During my research, I came across a bread baking cook book by Carol Field - "The Italian Baker". In one part of the book she is describing how she observed bakers loading their oven in the "Old Country". She described them using a sling of fabric to place loaves in the oven and then just whipping it out to leave the loaves behind. She then goes on to lament the fact that there is unfortunately no such device for use in the home kitchen. That helped to further enforce the notion that maybe we really were onto something and that it might find uses beyond pizza making.

   Albert: Does the Super Peel have any other uses in baking other than pizza? Gary: Yes, bread bakers, both amateurs and professionals have found it useful and have endorsed it. The Super Peel has been used in classes at the CIA and has even been mentioned in some bread baking books over the years. It can also be useful for pie and pastry making, as it can be slipped beneath and dough sheet even if it is partially stuck to the rolling surface.

 Generally, it can help with any dough moving task and will reduce the amount of handling and reduce the amount of extra flouring needed. As you know, too much of either of these can adversely affect the quality of your finished baked goods. Most recently, the wood fired oven gang has been giving us more attention. The use of too much bench flour can leave deposits on the bottom of your pizza, where it burns in the high heat of the WFO. The result can be an unpleasant bitterness which can really detract from the pie.

  Albert: How did you first start to Market the Super Peel?? What was your most successful promotion? I actually started by attempting to license the concept. There was good interest and a couple of near misses, which actually bolstered my confidence in the product idea. The major obstacle to licensing was the fact that it was just too new of an idea. One might think that a revolutionary game changer would be a good thing, but such a product often requires so much education up and down the line so as to be a real negative, regardless of how cool and functional the product is.

 If customers cannot easily understand a new product, they are not likely to buy it, especially if it purports (like the Super Peel) to do magic. I pitched the product to The Baker's Catalogue, and they were interested in trying it. Eventually, it appeared on the cover of the Catalogue in Nov. of 2003 and they sold about 1000 units. It was such a good fit with the Catalogue that we had to do it, even though we didn't make any money on the whole deal. But, the exposure in The Baker's Catalogue would later lead to product testing at Cook's Illustrated.

 Gaining a Cook's Illustrated endorsement has undoubtedly played a role in the success of the product.
End of Part 1 of Super Peel: Interview

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