Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs under 40

What do the young Jewish star chefs in Los Angeles have in common? For those on the cutting edge of the city’s food scene, it’s not the laws of kashrut. Instead, for each of the 10 chefs and teams profiled here, all under age 40, the foundation of their cooking is seasonality, sustainability and a strong sense of place. Their styles and philosophy can be traced back to the temple of  Berkeley’s Alice Waters, who is not Jewish, as well as some leading local godmothers of L.A. cooking, such as Nancy Silverton, Evan Kleiman, Suzanne Tracht and Susan Feniger, who certainly are. 

Many of these younger chefs spent their formative years training with marquee names in iconic restaurants, like Campanile, Michael’s and Spago. Others have made their names via big-time reality TV food shows, while the rest have forged independent, idiosyncratic and often surprising paths. 

Most of the chefs we’ve included are Los Angeles natives who at some point left their hometown to develop their skills and knowledge in other cities, some overseas, but we’ve also highlighted a selection of transplants from the East Coast, as well as other parts of California, who’ve found inspiration and success in Los Angeles. All of these chefs benefited from supportive families, education and access, and almost all have an ownership stake in their current businesses.

They all come from Jewish families, and although mostly secular, their cultural and religious identities, along with formative food experiences, continue to influence what shows up on the tables of their popular and critically lauded restaurants. (Most of their establishments are among Jonathan Gold’s recent 101 Best Restaurants list in the Los Angeles Times.) 

And come major holidays, they might even reinterpret traditional Jewish foods in ways their bubbes never imagined.

Eric Greenspan
The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire

Equal parts extroverted, easygoing, precise and book smart, Eric Greenspan is that guy you went to Sunday school with. Come major holidays, he’s one of the local chefs who regularly puts his version of Ashkenazic favorites on the menu at The Foundry on Melrose (which is under renovation, until August). Meanwhile, Greenspan’s latke bites have proven popular enough to always be available at Foundry. His semi-regular fried chicken nights attracted regulars who shattered stereotypes of caloric decadence-fearing Angelenos.

Greenspan graduated from Calabasas High School, has degrees from UC Berkeley and Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, and was named executive chef at Patina before moving to the erstwhile Meson G on Melrose (Hatfield’s now occupies the space). Greenspan said he doesn’t actively practice the Conservative traditions he was raised with, but he said he likes “to raise the flag of Judaism as often as possible.” Last February, for instance, he teamed up with chef Roberto Treviño for El Ñosh, a Jewish-Latin fusion pop-up concept during the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami. And his haimish side really shines in his transcendent grilled cheese sandwiches, which became the inspiration for “The Melt Master: A Grilled Cheese Adventure Show,” on Tasted, a food channel show on YouTube. Now The Foundation Hospitality Group (which he formed with partner Jay Perrin and Jim Hustead, and which also operates the Beverly Hills-adjacent Roof on Wilshire, atop Hotel Wilshire) is turning a small space next to The Foundry into a sandwich emporium, dubbed Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese and slated to open in July. 

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 651-0915  –  thefoundryonmelrose.com

The Roof on Wilshire Hotel
6317 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 852-6002  –  theroofonwilshire.com

Giselle Wellman
Petrossian Café

Preparing Shabbat dinner “was the highlight of the week,” said Giselle Wellman, 28, about her early devotion as a teenager in San Diego to cooking for her extended clan. It didn’t occur to her that it was unusual for someone her age to plan her activities around preparing a large family meal on Friday nights. Nor did she automatically assume she was destined for a career commanding the stoves. 

“There are a lot of chefs in my family, but I was committed to the idea that we go to school, and we become doctors and lawyers,” the now-executive chef at the luxurious Petrossian caviar boutique and restaurant in West Hollywood explained. “Cooking was a hobby until the day my mom came home with an application for a nearby culinary school.” Not satisfied with her choices nearby, Wellman moved to Mexico City, where most of her family has been based since fleeing Eastern Europe during World War II, and she lived there with her grandmother while attending Le Cordon Bleu. Fluent in English and Spanish, Wellman speaks fondly of her family’s cultural hybrid traditions, such as adding a squeeze of lime to chicken matzah ball soup. 

A beautiful, simple salad with butter lettuce, shaved egg, mixed fresh herbs, crème fraîche dressing and a sprinkling of, yes, caviar, showcases Wellman’s deft hand when it comes to restrained indulgence. She satisfies the smoked fish fanatics and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, but Wellman also knows her way around a lamb pita sandwich. And if you’ve ever wondered what caviar tastes like atop a perfectly fried latke, Wellman is the chef to enlighten you. 

Petrossian Café
321 N. Robertson Blvd.  –  West Hollywood
(310) 271-0576  –  petrossian.com/boutique-west-hollywood-boutique-and-restaurant-6.html

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ilan Hall
The Gorbals 

When Long Island-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained Ilan Hall came to Los Angeles from New York to invest his winnings from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” his location of choice — downtown — reflected the optimism of a new arrival. Opening a restaurant in the lower level of the once lustrous, now scrappy Alexandria Hotel in the Historic Core of the city pinned heavy hopes on the neighborhood’s renaissance. Hall’s bet paid off, and his meat-intensive, cultural mash-up cooking style has drawn customers to the increasingly vibrant intersection of Fifth and Spring streets since opening in 2009. Improvising from his Jerusalem-born mother’s heritage as well as that of his Scottish father, Hall, 31, makes food that is deeply personal. (The restaurant takes its name from Glasgow’s historically Jewish neighborhood where Hall’s father comes from.) “My mom, who doesn’t cook, made really good sandwiches. She made me a hummus and ham sandwich, and it was really marvelous. It was those two ingredients made to be together. That’s where it all began,” Hall told Orit Arfa, writing for jewishjournal.com in 2009. 

His in-your-face iconoclastic bacon-wrapped matzah balls might be what got people talking, but the Gorbals has evolved into one of the area’s staple late-night pubs, where folks can order reasonably priced dishes of welsh rarebit, homemade latkes, tongue confit, and Persian cucumbers tossed with crispy garbanzos and sumac. 

The Gorbals
501 S. Spring St.  –  Los Angeles
(213) 488-3408  –  thegorbalsla.com

Photo by Dylan Ho

Karen Hatfield
Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen

Chef Karen Hatfield and her husband, Quinn Hatfield, are as close as you get to a fabled L.A. storybook romance. Pacific Palisades-raised Karen, 37, met Quinn while working on the line at Spago, where she was a pastry chef and he was rising through the ranks of Wolfgang Puck’s legendary kitchen. Their first eponymous restaurant occupied an elegantly modest space on Beverly Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax, before they ambitiously decamped to Melrose, near Highland, in the building originally occupied by chef Alain Giraud’s nouvelle cuisine institution, Citrus. The Hatfields’ exacting style fits the site’s pedigree and history. The couple also owns The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea, a neighborhood utility player where locals drop in for coffee, sandwiches, salads and rustic pastries, including Karen’s notoriously delicious twist on an Old World treat: the salted-caramel babka roll.

6703 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977  –  hatfieldsrestaurant.com

The Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 939-0151  –  thesycamorekitchen.com

Photo by Jessica Ritz

Jessica Koslow

Good thing Jessica Koslow got her alternative career plans out of the way. The Long Beach-bred master food preserver, 32, earned her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown before getting on the culinary track in Atlanta, where she started cooking at the lauded restaurant Bacchanalia under the mentorship of chef Anne Quatrano. Koslow moved to New York, and then was transferred home to Los Angeles while producing online content for “American Idol,” when she started delving more deeply into food preservation and baking. In the interim, she returned to Atlanta for a bit to help Quatrano open another restaurant. Back in L.A., Koslow began making and selling small batches of delicately flavored jams (Pakistani mulberry, Thai basil), and when her production needs exceeded capacity in the commercial kitchen space she borrowed, she found her own place on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood to create Sqirl, her micro café, which attracts diners willing to consume $5 coffee and brioche toast piled with market greens, preserved lemon and slivered beets topped with an egg while sitting on a stretch of sidewalk that can hardly be described as glamorous.

Koslow still makes the popular jams, and she constantly returns to Jewish pickling; hulking dark brown ceramic fermenting crocks full of caraway-laced sauerkraut and kosher dill pickles can always be spotted somewhere around the kitchen at Sqirl. She maintains a discerning eye for top, peak-season ingredients and zero tolerance for short cuts (current project: mastering beef tongue pastrami). “Jewish food is very comforting. I think of it in terms of the home and family,” Koslow observed. “It’s what I know, and these things resonate.” Because she’s found an ever-expanding audience, the under-construction space next door to Sqirl will contain a provisions shop. 

720 N. Virgil Ave.  No. 4   –  Los Angeles
(213) 394-6526  –  sqirlla.com

Ori Menashe

The Italian-themed Bestia, located inside a converted industrial building in the downtown Arts District, has been buzzing since day one, thanks to chef Ori Menashe’s spectacular house-made, intensely flavored pastas, pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven at the right nanosecond and an extensive selection of his aromatic, expertly handled charcuterie. Salads and other vegetable-focused dishes at Bestia reflect the chef’s passion for Southern California produce, which is equal to his faith in his customers’ willingness to order grilled lamb heart with sprouted arugula. 

The Los Angeles-born, then Israel-raised Menashe, 32, comes from a mostly kosher household. He started flouting the rules upon eating his first cheeseburger when he was around 15. “That’s when I thought I could change my own direction,” he said, noting that he felt freer to explore traditions and ingredients outside of his family’s kosher home. He’s cooked in L.A. kitchens ranging from a café in Kosher Corridor, to Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, before the omnipresent restaurateur Bill Chait (also the man behind Sotto; see below) came calling. Menashe’s wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia’s acclaimed pastry chef. His Israeli upbringing, in combination with his parents’ Georgian and Moroccan roots, enriches his professional toolkit. Said Menashe: “A lot of my flavor profile is because of my dad,” who still owns a restaurant in Israel. “He’s really talented.”

2121 E. Seventh Place  –  Los Angeles
(213) 514-5724  –  bestiala.com

Photo by Emily Hart Roth

Zoe Nathan
Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery

Westside restaurant power couple Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb met in the kitchen of Rustic Canyon, the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant Loeb founded and had named in honor of his beloved Santa Monica neighborhood. They’ve since married and had a son, Milo, all while continuing to make their mark among a receptive community. Chef Nathan, 31, who spent time at Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York and San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Bakery, keeps expanding her pastry and savory repertoires, from wood-fired pizzas at Milo & Olive to small-batch ice creams at Sweet Rose Creamery, to sandwiches at casual café Huckleberry, which she co-owns with entrepreneur Loeb. Despite this breadth, Nathan primarily identifies as a pastry chef and baker. The couple’s businesses are a natural extension of their values and worldview. “Zoe and I are much more culturally religious than actually practicing religious, but ultimately food is our religion as much as anything,” Loeb, 38, explained. During the holidays, Nathan notes that “brisket is a mainstay on the menu at Huck, and my flavors in a lot of my food are a play of salty and sweet.” Also of note: Now helming the Rustic Canyon kitchen is Executive Chef Jeremy Fox, a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2009 Bon Appetit Best Chef (and Member of the Tribe), who brings the deeply seasonal, highly refined, gorgeously composed style he developed at Manresa in Los Gatos and Ubuntu in Napa. 

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050  –  rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Huckleberry Cafe
1014 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 451-2311  –  huckleberrycafe.com

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 453-6776  –  miloandolive.com

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th St. No. 51  –  Santa Monica
(310) 260-2663  –  sweetrosecreamery.com

Photo by Sean Murphy

Zach Pollack

Zach Pollack, 29, who along with Steve Samson, runs Sotto Italian restaurant on West Pico, near Beverly Drive, grew up “quite Reform” in Westwood. His mother was born in Germany to refugees who immigrated to the United States “in the aftermath of the Holocaust,” Pollack said. “We took Jewish cultural traditions seriously,” he noted, and religious practice less so, although he did have a bar mitzvah. 

Pollack’s formative professional conversion can be traced to his junior year abroad in Florence, Italy; after graduating from Brown University, he returned to Italy to fully develop his passion for its cooking. (Samson was raised in an interfaith family that didn’t regularly observe Jewish rituals.) The duo brings a seriousness of purpose and commitment to quality to a block not previously known for culinary accomplishment. That was until Sotto and its upstairs neighbor, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Picca Peruvian cantina, transformed their eclectic colonial townhouse building into a dining destination. At lunch and dinner, the cozy subterranean room is packed with diners sharing hearty plates of grilled meatballs with bitter greens, deliciously funky blistered pizzas, traditional Italian dishes that use quintessentially West Coast ingredients such as Fresno chilies and formidable protein dishes paired with seasonal vegetables. 

9575 W. Pico Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(310) 277-0210  –  sottorestaurant.com

Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Microsoft

Jon Shook
Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec

Jon Shook and his business partner, Vinny Dotolo, opened their first restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District among the delis, Judaica shops and skater hangouts. But if you expect Animal to share anything in common with its next-door neighbor and landlord, the kosher icon Schwartz Bakery and Café, let us disabuse you of any such notions immediately. (Their lease agreement actually includes a non-kosher clause.) “It’s kind of random that we ended up on Fairfax,” Shook remarked, “but it’s been interesting.” Both Florida natives, Dotolo and Shook, 32, were among the city’s first ambassadors of the nose-to-tail philosophy and approach. And yet despite Shook’s love of a “Jewish-grandma-style brisket,” they’re far from being a one-trick pony extreme-meat shtick. The Shook/Dotolo brand has thrived with their seafood-focused Son of a Gun on Third Street, near La Cienega, which also happens to serve a crave-inducing fried chicken sandwich, along with the stellar petite lobster roll and raw seafood dishes infused with unexpected flavors. 

They’ve also opened Trois Mec (the name roughly translates as “three dudes”), a partnership with celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who is arguably best known for his series of highly in-demand pop-up dinners called LudoBites. This collaborative project is tucked within a former Raffalo’s strip mall pizza shop catty-corner from Silverton’s Mozza, and immediately attracted accolades for the inventive prix fixe menu that changes almost daily. The restaurant’s system, requiring advance purchase of a meal in lieu of making a traditional reservation, much like a cultural event, also got attention. Any resulting criticism hasn’t impacted the bottom line — Trois Mec’s 24 seats remain  among the hottest tickets in town. The most recent news out of the Shook/Dotolo camp is a vague plan announced via Instagram to take over the Damiano’s space on Fairfax; it helps that they own the building.  

435 N. Fairfax Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9225  –  animalrestaurant.com

Son of a Gun
8370 W. Third St.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9033  –  sonofagunrestaurant.com

Trois Mec
716 N. Highland Ave.  –  Los Angeles

Photo by Cathy Chaplin/GastronomyBlog.com

The Residency at Umamicatessen

“I didn’t set out to say I want to be the modern Jewish chef,” Micah Wexler, 30, explained at Reboot’s “Who’s Your Bubbie?” panel at the Skirball last November. “These were the flavors I grew up around, [and they] started to manifest more and more.” So it additionally stung when Wexler, who has staged in some of Europe’s most famous kitchens, was getting into the groove of revisiting the Ashkenazic culinary canon at his pan-Mediterranean Mezze restaurant on La Cienega then had to close down suddenly due to construction next door. 

Losing that venue as a home base for his Old World-meets-New, market-driven dishes, including chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda, farm egg shakshouka, soujouk sausage with muhammara and veal jus, and smoked sablefish with lebne, has by no means kept him out of the L.A. food scene, however. Wexler is currently in the midst of his second stint at Umamicatessen’s Residency project downtown, cooking multicourse dinners in an open kitchen surrounded by customers seated at his counter for a very specific experience. The configuration makes for a social, interactive Saturday night, as does the conceit. For the current “Dead Chefs” theme, continuing through July, Wexler turns to the canon to cook recipes from a different historical culinary giant for each of the 10 weeks, starting with Marie-Antoine Careme and concluding with Julia Child. 

“To Live and Dine in L.A.,” Wexler’s previous, inaugural session of the program, took a specific geographical approach, with nights dedicated to saluting the best of Pico Boulevard and exploring the diverse heritage Boyle Heights, among other communities. Wexler might have made an Israeli cheese-stuffed borek in reference to Eilat Market, but not one you’d typically expect. (Hint: Bacon was involved.)

A graduate of Milken Community High School, Wexler and his business partner (and fellow Cornell University alum) Mike Kassar, are setting their sights on settling down again, in a new locale, in the coming months.  

The Residency at Umamicatessen
852 Broadway  –  Los Angeles
(213) 413-8626 – umami.com/umamicatessen

L.A. pizza and carepackages reached fire’s frontlines

Shawn Evenhaim and Shoham Nicolet were both officers in the Israeli army, so they know what it means to be able to sit down during a ten-minute break in action on the field and open a package with some snacks and towelettes and a personal letter from someone overseas thanking you for protecting the Jewish homeland.

When the fire broke out in northern Israel on Thursday, Evenhaim, a board member of the Los Angeles-based Israel Leadership Council, and Nicolet, ILC’s executive director, mobilized, military-style, to send that kind of succor to the firefighters.

ILC worked with the Jewish National Fund to set up contacts with the firefighters and figure out what they needed and how to best get it there.

Nicolet, who was in Israel at the time, ordered 100 pizzas from the Haifa Pizza Hut to be delivered to the frontlines, courtesy of ILC.

Evenhaim contacted a childhood friend who works for Supersol, one of Israel’s largest grocery chains, and arranged to have 400 packages of food and hygiene items packed and delivered to the firelines. At the same time, Evenhaim contacted Kadima Academy in West Hills and the kids all wrote personal letters – some in Hebrew, some in English, many with illustrations—thanking the firefighters and police officers, as well as letters to children who were evacuated. Those letters were scanned and then printed in Israel, and included in the care packages, which reached firefighters by Sunday.

The entire operation cost ILC under $10,000, most of which has already been raised.

“When we heard about the fire our immediate reaction was that we wanted to make an impact in the field, at the frontlines,” Evenhaim said. “I know there are many organization that will raise money for bigger things, but our mission was to concentrate on helping the real heroes on the ground.”

Ready, Aim, Birthday!

It’s not every day that I am E-vited to a birthday party promising to feature live ammunition. Excitedly, I E-sponded with a resounding “yes.”

Paula was throwing a Wild West-themed shindig for her husband Bill’s birthday. It was a “BYOF” (Bring Your Own Firearm) affair.

“Don’t worry,” Paula said. “Dale and Pete are bringing extra guns and they’re willing to share.”

After my husband and I signed a long, pesky agreement at the counter, I saw Paula, Bill and our friends firing away. I tried to bolt for the range, but the guy at the counter pointed to a pile of earmuffs and said, “Hey! You’re going to need a pair of these.”

I slapped a set over my head, and when I finally got onto the range I immediately jumped in terror at the sheer decibel level of a dozen guns going off at once.

Our friends greeted us, and the birthday boy, sporting a .38 caliber, was grinning from ear to ear. He seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t hear anything other than the rat-a-tat-tat of live ammo just a few feet away.

I had never known that Dale and Pete were marksmen, nor that Dale’s wife, Nancy, a sweet mother of two who might weigh 95 pounds wearing a dress of sand, could make Swiss cheese out of a target within 100 feet.

Dale showed me how to hold, load and aim his .38. He clipped a fresh target paper on a reel and sent it back about 15 feet. The target featured a masked gunman holding a hostage.

“OK now, that guy with the gun has just broken into your house,” Dale said. “The hostage is one of your kids. Go get him.”

That was all I needed to hear. I took aim, fired and shot off a hunk of the ceiling. A lot of good I’d do in an emergency.

I aimed again, lower this time, and got about two zip codes closer. By the time my turn was up, I had clipped the dirtbag’s shoulder and right knee. It was progress.

I stepped back to let my husband have a go at it, but I was eager for my next turn so I could focus on my target. In the meantime, Paula sidled over to me.

“I hate guns,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this at all.”

“Love can make you do strange and terrible things,” I yelled, since our earmuffs made normal conversation impossible.

“I’m just waiting for the pizza and beer part. That’ll be a lot more fun,” she promised.

I wasn’t sure about that. I was itching to try Dale’s shotgun, which he soon put into my newly gunpowder-stained hands.

“Geez, this is heavy,” I said. “Someone could really get hurt with this thing.”

“That’s the idea. Now let’s have another go at the bad guy,” Dale said, clipping a new target on the reel and helped me position the gun against my shoulder.

“Watch out for the recoil,” he warned.

I steadied the gun, aimed and fired. The recoil was terrific, instantly bruising my shoulder. Amazingly, I got within the target, and my friends applauded and hollered. I began to turn to take a bow but Dale screamed, “Don’t turn the shotgun! Put that thing down!”

I put the gun down carefully, took my bow and resumed firing.

Our kids joined us at the pizza party after, where I proudly showed off my bullet-ridden target paper to the oldest teens.

“Your mom’s a good shot,” Dale warned them. “Better keep your room clean.”

I’m thinking of going back to the range for a couple shooting classes, to give me that euphoric rush that grocery shopping seldom delivers. Maybe, for my midlife crisis, instead of entering a deep depression, I’ll join the NRA and move to a state that allows you to carry a concealed weapon. No one will know why I will have a smirky “make my day” expression. But I’ll owe it all to Paula and her E-vite to Big Bill’s Birthday Blast.

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.


Give Teen Party a Pizza Makeover

Unlike the bar and bat mitzvah parties of my youth, which were often like pint-sized weddings, where barely a dozen preteen friends and a smattering of cousins ate grown-up food, mingled, and danced awkwardly among a sea of elders, today’s parties honor the bar/bat mitzvah peer group. After all, whose celebration is this anyway?

Since pizza is most teenagers’ favorite food, how about doing something original? Anybody up for a pizza-making party? Talk about a practical skill to take into his teenage years.

It’s a joyous, bonding experience as the bar mitzvah boy leads off by making the first pizza, then gets to watch, instruct, kibitz and comment, as each of his friends takes a turn. Instead of a disc jockey urging everyone to dance, a pizza maven will teach the teens how to assemble the flatbread of our ancestors. Even though a Neapolitan baker is credited with inventing the popular snack, ancient Israelites baked flat, unleavened bread in rustic mud ovens, then covered it with a topping of their choice.

The FOB (father of the bar/bat mitzvah) can spin the tunes; the MOB (mother of the bar/bat mitzvah) can oversee the event.

Boys enjoy the activity as much as girls and are often more creative pizza makers because they’re not so worried about being perfect, said chef and food stylist Rori Trovato, who has held many a pizza-making party for her children.

Author of “Dishing With Style: Secrets to Great Tastes and Beautiful Presentations” (Clarkson Potter, 2004), Trovato calms our nerves, assuring us that that the Neapolitan Pizza Pie is very forgiving. The innovative mother of two hates predictably round pies. Instead, her organically shaped Pizza Margheritas billow out at the edges, and she urges kids to form their dough into animals, stars or whatever the young pizzaiolo wishes to create. He can even cut his pizzas into tiny squares to trade with his friends.

“When hosting a pizza party, organization is key,” said baker Peter Reinhart, author of “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza,” (Ten Speed Press, 2003). He points to the French term mise en place — having all the ingredients prepared in advance and everything in its place before you begin cooking, the same as it is in a pizzeria.

Although buying prepared pizza dough is recommended, if you must make it from scratch assemble it the day before and divide it into balls big enough to make two individual pizzas. Leaving it in the refrigerator overnight actually gives it more flavor, Reinhart said. When ready to assemble the pizzas, remove only as many as you need.

The pizza maven can demonstrate how to roll the dough, brush it with oil, then top it with sauce and each guest’s favorite ingredients. As each pizzaiolo-in-training takes his masterpiece out of the oven the look of pride on his face makes you realize why you went to all this trouble. And, after all, how often are you the MOB?

Essential Tools: Pizza stone, wooden baker’s peel, a rimless baking tray or very wide spatula, long-handled tong, roller-style pizza cutter or large sharp knife, Microplane zester or good cheese grater and a rolling pin. If making dough, you’ll need an electric mixer with a dough hook or a food processor.

The Table: Set one large table or several smaller ones with a washable tablecloth, the essential tools listed above, cheeses and graters, bowls of sauces, topping and condiment oils in small jars with metal spouts so guests can assemble pizzas easily. Divide the tasks into stations — a dough-making area to roll out, stretch and shape the pizzas, a topping area for making the pizzas and a third for cutting and serving them after they’re baked.

Topping Ideas: Thick tomato sauce, pesto sauce, a variety of cheeses (mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and gorgonzola or goat cheese); sautéed or caramelized onions and garlic; sautéed mushrooms, including cremini and portabella; sautéed or roasted red, yellow, orange or green peppers; kalamata or oil-cured olives (pits removed); anchovies; roasted purple or yellow potatoes, sun-dried or oven dried tomatoes; and sautéed radicchio.

Tips for Assembling Pizzas: The oven should be heated to 550 F for 1 1/2 hours before making the pizzas. Assemble pizzas just before transferring them to the oven. Liberally flour the pizza peel. Keep pizzas loose on peel, making sure the end of it is clean so pizzas will slide off easily on to the pizza stone. Brush raw dough with olive oil, then the tomato or pesto sauce, then the toppings, which should all be at room temperature. Don’t overload the pizza or when you slide it on to the stone the toppings might spill over and stick to the stone. Don’t have any ingredients that are too watery or juicy or the pizza will end up soggy. Check pizza after 10 minutes; if it has not browned enough, bake one to two minutes longer until cheese is bubbling and color is pleasing. Work quickly; pizza dough is impatient.

Classic Margherita Pizza

From “Dishing with Style.”

Prepared pizza dough

Tomato Sauce

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in their juice

4 to 5 whole leaves of basil

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon sugar, plus more to taste

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, sauté garlic cloves in olive oil until golden brown, four to six minutes. Turn off the heat for five minutes to cool the oil. Add all the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the basil leaves and garlic cloves. Adjust seasoning with salt or sugar, if needed. Store in a plastic or glass container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.


1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick

6 to 8 whole basil leaves

Kalamata olives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 550 F. Roll out dough into individual or large size pizzas. Transfer pizzas onto a lightly floured pizza peel. Quickly top each pizza with sauce, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edges. Lay mozzarella slices on top to cover and carefully slide the pizza onto the hot stone. Do not attempt to move pizzas on the stone; they will stick. Bake individual pizzas for six to eight minutes and the large pizza for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbly. Using long handled tongs, remove pizza from oven, sliding it onto peel, cutting board or plate. Top with the basil, tearing the leaves as you place them. Place an olive in the center of each pizza.

Serves four.

Pesto Sauce

From “American Pie:” My Search for the Perfect Pizza.”

This recipe makes a smooth, creamy pesto. It can be baked on top of focaccia or pizza, or drizzled over it after it comes out of the oven. It will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, but will be at its best during the first 24 hours. You can substitute toasted walnuts for the pine nuts, or add them in equal parts.

2 cups fresh basil leaves

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Add half the pine nuts and blend for a few seconds to grind them coarsely. Transfer the puree to a bowl and fold in the cheese, the remaining pine nuts, pepper and salt. Place in an airtight container and keep refrigerated until needed.

Makes about two cups.

Roasted Garlic

From cooking teacher and caterer Jean Brady.

4 large heads of garlic, sliced in half crosswise

4 sprigs rosemary, chopped

4 sprigs thyme, chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Sprinkle half of herbs on bottom of baking dish; place garlic in dish, cut sides up. Pour oil over garlic; season with salt, pepper, and remaining herbs. Cover and bake until tender, about one hour. To serve, set out roasted heads of garlic. Holding the garlic head, cut side down; squeeze the desired amount of garlic puree directly on to the pizza dough. You can also use a demitasse spoon to scoop out the cooked puree.


Careful With That Pizza!

Mushrooms, peppers and extra cheese, please — but hold the explosives. Concerns about booby-trapped pizzas have led the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to impose restrictions on the use of a Web site that allows users to spice up the Israeli army service by sending pies to soldiers. More than 5,000 pizzas have been sent to members of the IDF since the service began operating about a month ago, says Shimon Aharon, a British-born Israeli and one of the co-founders of the site, www.pizzaidf.org. However, after news organizations reported on the site, the army began to worry that Palestinian terrorists would take advantage of the deliveries to send "pizzas" with more than just explosive taste.

IDF officials recently instructed soldiers not to accept any pizzas they had not ordered themselves.

The army said in a statement that the directive was issued "due to concern that hostile elements would make use of the pizza deliveries."