“I’m thinking, ‘I must be out of my mind.’ Blaine Parker says, “I’m in the home kitchen of these two people who’ve been called a restaurant power couple. If my pizza sucks, they’re going to know. So I deliver this shrimp, garlic and cilantro pizza onto the kitchen island. It smells great. And this award-winning chef and his sommelier wife each take a bite. He’s loving it. She cries, ‘What do you mean you don’t want to open a pizza place? WHY?!’ I guess there was nothing to be nervous about.”
That pizza scene with those restaurant pros is just one reason Blaine Parker decided to write his new book, “Free The Pizza!” It calls itself “A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.” He calls on his 20-plus years of experience as a pizza-crazy, possibly obsessed an amateur pizzaiolo.
The Kindle edition of “Free The Pizza!” has been a “#1 New Release” on Amazon in the Pizza Making category for two weeks, and has climbed as high as #2 on the category’s list of top 100 books. And who knows? The reason might be as much for some if its ridiculous entertainment value as its simple steps to making great pizza. It’s a fun read–but it also works off a basic premise: pizza is a simple craft. It’s not about buying a special oven.
“I have no professional training. I believe anyone who likes working in the kitchen can make great pizza. The secret is patience, planning, high heat, and no fear. And making pizza should be fun. That’s why we have fun in the book.” And fun is in the house. There are chapters called things like, “What This Book Is And Why You Might Run Screaming Into The Night,” “Three Articles Of Faith For The Home Pizza Maker,” and “Getting Baked.” He even opens the book with a “WARNING” that says, “I am not a professional chef. I don’t know what I’m talking about.” And, “There are plenty of long, exhaustive books on this subject. This is not one of them.”
Parker says the secret to great pizza is definitely not about buying a pizza oven. “It seems like some folks are surprised to find out that buying a pizza oven doesn’t instantly turn them into a pizzamaker. I love those ovens. I even own one, but I rarely use it. My favorite pizza oven is my home oven. It’s more forgiving, it’s bigger and it’s easier to work with. And when you use it correctly, it can be a far better pizza than you can ever buy in most places.”
Parker says that, at the end of the day, it boils down to simple skills and basic understanding. “The true challenge,” he says, “is learning how to actually make pizza, which is just not that hard.”
He also thinks history is on his side there. “Pizza has been around a lot longer than public education and modern technology. And if poor, uneducated people in the 1700s could make a decent pizza, why shouldn’t we?”
As if to prove that it’s not about the oven, Parker has made pizza in the home ovens of friends across the country. “When my wife and I travel by car, I’m packing a 16-inch baking steel, pizza peels and trays, and even a cooler for dough. I’ve made pizza in home ovens from New Hampshire to California, from Mississippi to Wyoming. And let me tell you, it makes people’s heads explode. They’re not ready for it. And they love it.”
As for that chef and his wife who also loved it? His name is John Courtney, and you may have seen him throwing down on TV. He’s a Chopped Champion whose professional training was in Michelin-star kitchens in France. Courtney was impressed enough with Parker’s pizza that he agreed to write the foreword to the book. He calls “Free The Pizza” a “wonderful approach to and about pizza.” He also describes Blaine Parker’s shrimp and garlic pizza as a “brilliant orgy of loving sensations on [the] tongue.” (Over the top? You decide.) John Courtney makes and sells pizzas himself, using a wood-fired oven in his specialty butcher shop that he and his wife, Paige run in Utah, called Chop Shop Park City.
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