Pizza Man to Pizza Man: Phil talks with John Pennington of Southside Flying Pizza
Our kitchen manager, Phil, talked with John Pennington of Southside Flying Pizza about the art of making pizzas. In the interview, John said he was to be out of town for the Carnival. As luck would have it, he will be in town and will be defending this title for largest pie thrown in the dough tossing contests along with guys, and maybe gals, from Mellow Mushroom, Saccone’s, Brooklyn Pie Company, Hoboken Pies and Home Slice Pizza. The competition starts at 3:45 this Saturday, November 20th, at the Carnival O’ Pizza.
I met with Southside Flying Pizza’s John Pennington, 2009’s CARNIVAL O’ PIZZA’S LARGEST PIZZA winner. We sat at a small table in his shop, his crew making beautiful pizzas, his dining room buzzing with happy customers and neighborhood peeps. John checked in with his crew before sitting down with me. It was clear he was their leader, and a leader worth following.
P: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me, John.
J: No problem. Happy to do it.
P: So, you are the champion. Are you excited to come back and defend your title?
J: I’m going to be in New York during the carnival this year. It’s really disappointing; but I’m going to be in the City w/ my family, you know?
P: Wow, that’s a huge bummer. We were really looking forward to you coming back and kicking ass.
J: Me too. I love that you guys do that carnival. It’s excellent.
P: So, who are you sending in your place?
J: None of these guys are competition worthy. They’re too scared.
P: Pizza guy to pizza guy, what do you look for in dough?
J: I like it tight and smooth. No lumps. No knots. With still a little bit of a chill on it.
P: What kind of ovens do you like?
J: Wood and open flame ovens. I like the open space. I never worked a coal oven; but I bet I’d like it. I don’t really like deck ovens.
P: Wow. I LOVE deck ovens. What’s your problem with them?
J: They lose heat so fast. They’re inconsistent, too. The hot spots are never the same.
P: What are you looking for in a pizza?
J: Simple: cheese, garlic, pecorino romano.
P: That sounds delicious. What pizza gets ordered, and you can’t believe someone would order that?
J: The Supreme. Anything with everything. There’s just too much stuff on the pizza and nothing cooks right.
P: One of the things I love most about the gig is that little kids are TRANSFIXED by pizza makers. Why do you think that is and can you think of any other job that has they same kind of draw?
J: It’s art. It’s just art, that’s all there is to it. It’s like skate boarding. All these guys doing the same thing, in their own way. It’s awesome to see how someone is fluent in dough.
P: What’s the thing you wish you’d known when it comes to bringing people up?
J: That it’s so different, person to person. Everyone comes to it differently; everyone has their own learning curve. It can be kind of frustrating.
P: Sure. What’s the excellent thing about bringing people up that no one told you?
J: The benefit of seeing someone succeed. There’s nothing like it.
P: Working in a pizza shop is a constant challenge. Every day is another variable, another change up. What was the most challenging variable so far?
J: Our mixer went down for a week. So, for a week I had to drive out to the lake and make dough at a friend’s shop, and drive it back here. In the summer. Then the AC in my car broke.
P: That’s awful. Still, we keep with it. Why do you think that is?
J: I’m twelve years in, at this point, and for the last eight I knew I was going to run a pizza shop. There’s such a pride of excellence in what we do, and that makes all the difference. Those guys who use bad ingredients, and don’t care about what they do, or who they’re serving, I don’t understand how they keep doing it. It’s all about using quality ingredients, working with a quality crew, and feeding quality people.
We closed our conversation there. John went back on his line, in front of his open-flamed oven, washed his hands, and went back to work. It was totally inspiring to see a professional at work.
Thanks to the fine peeps at Southside Flying Pizza, and their leader, 2009 champion, John Pennington.