The owner, Jay Jerrier, kindly welcomed me into his kitchen near the end of a busy lunch hour. Before my arrival, I expected to be clumsily cooking in the safety of a kitchen in a back room somewhere. This was not the case. The pizza oven is right in the middle of Cane Rosso, and I had no choice but to take the risk of embarrassing myself in front of the entire restaurant.
Jerrier began by asking me to scrub in at the sink, and then handed me a round ball of dough. He instructed me on the best way to knead the dough by using only three fingers, excluding the thumb because it is prone to tear the dough.
To stretch the dough out even further, Jerrier showed me how to use my fists in a circular motion.
Jerrier gave my semi-circular dough his approval and then began instructing me on the toppings. I took a scoop of their fresh, hand-crushed San Marzano tomato sauce and spread it around the middle of the pie, being careful to leave room for a crust. Then he told me to take a handful of mozzarella and sprinkle it evenly over the sauce. I finished it off with a dusting of basil, and it was time to put it in the oven.
Jerrier handed me the long placing peel and showed me the quick push-forward, pull-back motion to use to get the pizza off the counter. Next, I had to put my pizza into their famous oven imported from Italy. I was a little nervous when swinging the placing peel toward the oven in that tiny kitchen. My hands shook for fear of dropping the precious pizza or accidentally knocking the wind out of one of the pizza cooks quickly preparing pizzas and dodging out of my way. I placed it inside the extremely hot oven, where the temperature ranges from 800-900 degrees.
“In Naples, they would yell at you for it not being round,” Jerrier said as he traded the placing peel for a turning peel and showed me how to properly cook the pizza.
Once the front edge of the pizza began to plump and show dark spots, he showed me how to use the turning peel to gently shift the uncooked side of the pizza toward the oak-burning fire.
About 60-75 seconds later, the pizza was cooked, and I carefully used the turning peel to swing it onto a plate. I felt so proud of my little pizza! Jerrier politely posed with me as I showed off a little bit, and then it was time to dig in and take a bite.
After Jerrier sliced up the pizza, he pointed out that only half of my pizza was actually cooked properly. When he said this, I felt a little defeated. However, he didn’t let my hard work go unnoticed.
He pointed out on one of his approved slices the air pockets in the crust created by the moisture in the dough.
Also, he showed me the color on the bottom of the slice, and how that meant it was cooked correctly.
I patiently waited to take a bite of the beautiful and, in my humble opinion, flawless pizza, but the lessons didn’t stop there. He instructed me on how to eat a slice just like they would in Naples, by folding the point of the pizza to the middle and then folding it in half. He said it was called “a libretto” or “booklet” in Italian. I took my first bite and was overwhelmed with deliciousness. The simple tomato sauce was so bright and full of flavor. I really couldn’t believe that I actually made a true, somewhat round, partially cooked, authentic-ish Neapolitan pizza. Jerrier is an excellent teacher. I asked him when we were finished if he had any other professional culinary training.
“I can’t cook anything but pizza,” Jerrier said. Having the ability to create a restaurant that produces about 500 fresh pizzas on a busy Saturday night is impressive. I can’t wait to return to Cane Rosso as a customer and fully appreciate the hard work and artistry that goes into each pizza they turn out.
Meredith Crawford is a D Magazine intern.