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Our Lunch with Peter Reinhart

Imagine having a conversation with the author of one of your favorite books.  Now imagine he's also a great pizza man.  Now imagine he's personable, charming and humble.  Now imagine that the conversation takes place over some great pizza!  That was our lunch with Peter Reinhart.

We like Peter Reinhart.  Ever since we first read American Pie and Lillian recognized one of Grandma Antoinette’s techniques in one of Peter’s recipes, we’ve felt a certain affinity for him.  If you haven’t read about our adventure of driving all night to study pizza-making with Chef Reinhart at his Pie Town restaurant in Charlotte, NC, you can find it here.  He’d told us then that he was unfamiliar with the Long Island style of pizza called the Grandma Pizza.

Peter Reinhart's class at Pie Town
The master at work at Pie Town

So when he told us that he was coming to NYC to teach a bread class, we seized the opportunity to invite him to lunch with us at Umberto’s, the New Hyde Park landmark where the Grandma pie was invented.  He graciously accepted.

We picked him up at LaGuardia airport on a rainy Saturday afternoon and whisked him off to Nassau County.  In the car, we talked about his new book, Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, the bread baking class he was going to teach the next day at the Institute for Culinary Education, how things were in Charlotte (where Peter lives with his wife Susan), and how hungry we all were.  One of the more interesting parts of the conversation was hearing about Peter’s amazing abilities as a pizza detective – diagnosing the problem with one pizza-maker’s dough as over-fermentation based on the flavor and the light color of the cooked pizza.  He told us that when the pizza has fermented too much, the yeast consumes all the sugars in the dough leaving none to caramelize the crust into a golden brown!

We got to Umberto’s pretty quickly, and got a table right away.  Even though the lunch rush had passed (it was past two in the afternoon) it was still pretty crowded.  We decided to order a Grandma pie, three Sicilian slices, and a small Margherita pizza (although we are regulars, we’d never had what Umberto’s calls their ‘brick oven’ pizza).  We thought that by 'small', they meant 'small,' but we'd say it was about 15".  We’re not sure what people around us thought as all these pizzas came to our table and Cary started snapping pictures, but we’re getting used to that by now…

Peter Reinhart at Umberto's
Peter (with Grandma) at Umberto's

In addition to being a bread baker, restaurateur, author, teacher, and pizzaiolo, Peter Reinhart is a big pizza fan.  He easily kept up with us in eating the three styles of pizza we'd ordered and launched into stories about multi-style pizzerias and the people who make them.  He told about great pie men around the country, including world-champion pizza maker and tosser Tony Gemignani (Peter’s already been to his new place in San Francisco) and others, from Chris Bianco of Phoenix’s Pizzeria Bianco to Brian Spangler and his Apizza Scholls in Portland, OR.

We never did run out of interesting conversation and it could have gone on and on. We learned a few dough-making tips that will help improve our future homemade pizzas. We also found out that Peter will be launching a website soon and is shooting some pilot episodes for a proposed television series. He's a busy man, and if you'd like to keep up with Chef Reinhart, his blog can be found at http://peterreinhart.typepad.com.

It was unfortunate that we weren't able to attend Chef Reinhart's class the next day, but as we've said before, if you ever get the chance to take a baking class with him, by all means do it.

We were all stuffed by the time we left Umberto's. Peter told us that he'd liked the Grandma's best, though the brick-oven Margherita was close.  

When we got into the car to take Peter to his hotel in Manhattan, he said he was meeting some people in Manhattan for dinner at Keste and at least one other pizzeria!  We told you we like this guy!  And we'll treasure our new autographed copy of Artisan Breads Every Day (thanks, Peter!).



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