Julia: You make pizza by the slice, but you have a pretty fancy culinary degree from CIA. When you were in culinary school, did you ever imagine you would own a pizza parlor?
Frank Pinello: Funny, my mother always wanted me to open a pizzeria because she thought they made good money. It used to piss me off so much. All I wanted to cook was fancy French food. Years later, here I am. Guess Mother is always right, huh?
JS: Your pizza is damned near perfect. Why would you bother experimenting with new flours and grains? When I was there, your first two customers were construction workers covered in sawdust. Do you think they will be stoked about a gluten free millet crust?
FP: Ha! I’ve been inspired by other chefs, and, this gluten allergy thing isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I love pizza, but I don’t love bleached white flour. I know that’s weird to say, but I think if we can make pizza great and really good for you for the planet, then why not? My dreams will come true when those construction dudes order veggie whole wheat slices… That would be so good.
JS: How did you find this spot, and what is the story behind your oven?
FP: The spot found me. Chris from Roberta’s and Quino Baca of the Brooklyn Star brought me on board to run a pizza place. Things changed and I ended up the owner. A mix of benevolence and luck! The oven is a 100 year old coal burning oven that was used to bake bread for a bakery.
JS: You have one salad on the menu right now, and it is an Italian-American classic with red wine vinegar and dried oregano. You and I see eye-to-eye on the pleasures of this unpretentious salad. What is it that makes that salad so comforting, and why did you choose to go that route on the menu instead of serving something that speaks to your more sophisticated palate?
FP: Well to me, it’s the idea of shitty/good. Romaine is not the best leafy green, and like you said, red wine vinaigrette is not very sophisticated, but there is a nostalgia that goes along with it. Also, a well-seasoned salad with good acid served in a woven wooden bowl has a special place in my heart!
JS: What was the inspiration for this salad we made?
FP: The inspiration for the salad was another pizzeria and Italian restaurant classic: the Arugula salad. The raisins and ricotta salata is a Sicilian influence. I like the idea of classics done well, simplicity but with a signature touch.
JS: You seem to really enjoy doing events and experiencing the social and cultural context around food. Besides our epic game of Spin The Salad, what other events have you done that you found to be particularly enriching or exciting?
FP: One was personal event: a friend’s wedding in Mendicino in Northern California where we cooked fresh food for friends and people that were important to me. It was both beautiful and challenging (there was no kitchen and we had to cook on an open fire), but very rewarding in the end. The other was the Vice anniversary party last week. It was bonkers! Vice is a neighborhood company that has supported us since day one. It felt good. Plus ‘Lil Wayne was there.
JS: Tell me about your experience gardening and how you learned that this was something you enjoyed?
FP: My grandfather was a farmer in Sicily, who later did some of the most amazing urban gardening in Bensonhurst — Saving seeds, growing our own veggies, composting. Some of my earliest food memories were in the garden with my him. He would pick a tomato off the vine, pull a salt shaker out of his pocket and split that delicious fruit with me. I think about those moments with him often. I am comforted by the concept of eating what you grow and feeding people that way; there’s nothing like eating veggies that are still warm from the sun.
JS: Has your Sicilian family tried your pizza? What do they think?
FP: My family from Sicily has tried my food. They really like it. I think they like the way I’ve used sesame seeds, Sicilian oregano and other sicilian pantry items. I think it makes them happy and proud. If they hated it they would probably lie and tell me they loved it anyway, ha!