Park City resident Blaine Parker doesn’t consider himself a pizza snob, but since 2003 he’s made a name for himself on his homemade pies with friends, family and colleagues.
“I have never made pizza professionally, but have been making pizza at home for many years,” he said. “And people keep telling me this is the best pizza they’ve had in years.”
As Parker developed the skill of making delicious pizza at home, Parker began to consider the idea of writing a book. He decided to go for broke after the coronavirus shut down the world.
The result is Free The Pizza: A Simple System for Making Great Pizza Anywhere With Your Own Oven, which will be released June 1st on Amazon.. Kindle pre-orders are now open, with hard copy orders open on Wednesday.
The book is not a cookbook. Instead, it’s more of a guide on how to discover the simple secrets to making delicious pizza in a standard oven.
“Making a good pizza is not that difficult,” he said. “It just takes a little understanding, patience and courage. So I wanted to write a book that would show them that they can make good pizza just by understanding pizza and suggest some simple steps.”
To help people understand pizza, Parker gives a brief history of pizza.
“If you understand how pizza started and how it got here, and what metamorphoses it has undergone to become American-style pizza, then you understand that you are trying to create better than a recipe,” he said.
As for the easy steps, Parker began by outlining the tools needed to make a good pizza.
“When COVID hit, I saw a lot of people buying pizza ovens,” Parker said. “These stoves will cost anywhere from $300 to several thousand dollars.”
Many of these stoves were gathering dust in the garages of Parker’s friends.
“They all came to the conclusion that the oven doesn’t make pizza,” he said.
While some recipes call for wood-burning ovens that heat between 800 and 1,000 degrees, most pizzerias have deck ovens that only heat up to 500-525 degrees, according to Parker.
“These ovens are not that different from the ones you have at home,” he said. “What you really need is the right baking surface – stone or steel. And it becomes easier if you have a peel, a big spatula-like thing that is used to take the pizza out of the oven.”
Parker said the peel tends to intimidate novice users.
“They’re worried they’ll flip the pizza and turn it into a dirty calzone at the bottom of the oven,” he said. “But it’s not that hard to use with a little practice.”
The next step in making good pizza is the right dough.
“There are a lot of dough recipes out there that are really bad, and it’s also important to know that you can’t make good dough quickly,” he said. “When you make dough, you have to wait a couple of days before using it, because fermented dough changes everything. It’s like homemade beer.”
If people want to make pizza in one day, Parker says, they should make the dough ahead of time and freeze it.
“So the active pizza cooking time is several hours to defrost the dough and then add the toppings and bake the pizza,” he said.
One of Parker’s earliest memories of pizza takes him back to when he was three or four years old.
“There was a pizzeria that sent you home with a partially baked pizza, and when you got home you put it back in the oven to finish baking,” he said.
The best pizzas Parker has tried come from Mozza in Los Angeles and Bianco in Phoenix.
“For a while, Chris Bianco was considered the best pizza maker in the country,” he said.
One day, Parker and his wife Honey drove to Phoenix to try Bianco’s pizza.
“We were at the bar and I told the bartender to tell Chris whatever he wanted and he made a white pizza with homemade sausage, red onion and rosemary,” Parker said. “I took a bite and turned to Honey, who hates rosemary, and said, ‘You should try this.’ She did this and said, “Oh my god.”
When Parker was finishing work on his book, he knew that he needed someone who would give him the right to write the foreword.
That’s when he asked chef John Courtney, managing partner of Chop Shop. in Newpark and one of the Food Network Chopped Champions.
The Parkers met Kourtney and his wife Paige through mutual friends and interviewed them for an episode of their CoupleCo podcast. which showcases married couples who work together.
“They recorded the podcast in Kourtney’s backyard and the unedited interview was almost two hours long,” Kourtney said.
“Hani said that you heard how we became friends during an uncut interview,” he said.
Courtney was stunned when Parker asked him to write a foreword for the book.
“There is nothing literary about me,” Courtney said with a laugh. “I love math and science, and cookbooks are great because they have math and other things that appeal to me. So when he asked me to write a forward, I was flattered but terrified beyond measure.”
Not wanting to let Parker down, Courtney did some research on the prefaces.
“That led me to bookstores where I actually bought books,” he said with a new laugh. “From what I researched, I learned that the forward was about the relationship between you and the writer, how you relate to the content of the book and how you back up what they say.”
Writing the foreword was a challenge for Courtney because it required writing about some of his praises.
“I don’t like to write about these things, but they are important because they connect me to the content of the book,” he said.
Another challenge was getting used to writing long sentences and paragraphs.
“You have to remember that for the last 18-20 years I have been writing menu descriptions that are no more than five words telling you about the dish,” he said, laughing. “Blaine asked for something between 500 and 2,000 words, so I wanted to hit somewhere in the 900 range. That way, I would feel like I didn’t underdeliver, but also didn’t throw away or oversell things.”
Parker is proud that Courtney accepted the challenge.
“John is proof that what I’m doing is real,” he said. “I’m flattered that John agreed to take the time to write it. And it worked great. After all, Free The Pizza makes people happy. Everyone is happy when they eat good pizza.”
Honey Parker said the book is a reflection of her husband’s love of pizza, and she’s grateful for the public’s opportunity to see what he’s been cooking at his friends’ private homes across the country.
“I feel like it’s a gift that he can do it,” she said. “While that meant another £20 for me because pizza keeps popping up at all hours of the day, we have a pizza night here every week with a friend and it feels like a family bond.”