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Pitfire Pizza's Paul Hibler on What Makes a Great Pie

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Paul Hibler, co-founder of Pitfire Pizza, is to LA pizza what John Lennon of the Beatles was to Rock and Roll. He's righteous. He looks like he belongs on a Harley in the Venice Whole Foods parking lot. He has a surfer's tan. He knows the other guys and gals who make "fancy" pizza in this town, and knows how they do it. He's not a chef. He's kind of trying to change the standard for pizza. He's also just really trying to have fun.

"I have a secret ingredient," Hibler says with a wink, "and I'm not going to tell you what it is." That's what they all say. Except, as I peek at what Hibler is trying to hide, there actually is a secret ingredient which goes on every pizza Margherita that Pitfire serves. Allergy freaks and traditionalists need not worry though, because it is also listed in with the restaurant's four ingredient description of the pizza. This only makes sense if you know what the ingredient is.

Pitfire started in the NoHo arts district after Hibler quit the movie business. "I had just wrapped the filming of Titanic in Mexico," he says, nonchalantly. He's passionate about his product. Four different kinds of flour go into the dough. They're using a bit of fresh yeast in it, along with a mother dough. A delayed rest or fermentation gives all bread dough its flavor; Pitfire's dough rests for two days before it's made into pizza. The five locations serve a combined 3,000 pizzas a day.

Hibler's been to Italy, and loves Neapolitan pizza, but isn't trying to recreate it at Pitfire. "We're not in Italy, we're in California, so we use California tomatoes," he says. The raw sauce is a blend of canned local tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt. It isn't cooked until it goes in the oven. Likewise, Pitfire is using a local mozzarella, as well as a California olive oil. The pie is then topped with torn locally-grown basil. For his final trick, Hibler makes a "6" atop the pizza with his olive oil can, "a trick I learned from an 80-year old pizziolo who made his dough by hand and had forearms like Popeye."

"There's a bit of alchemy in a pizza Margherita," Paul points to the finished but still raw pizza, "you'll notice how none of the ingredients are actually on top of each other. They're blended, but each have their own space on top of the dough." Then, the pizza is slid into the 620 degree oven (it's cooler than most because he wants to give the pizza time to cook and the natural sugars in the crust time to caramelize). He tends to the flames. Pitfire uses almond wood, a by-product of the almond industry (when the trees get too old, they don't produce enough fruit and must be chopped down and replanted, leaving lots of wood for pizza ovens).

When it comes out, the crust is medium brown to dark brown and the bottom is slightly burnished. All of the toppings have melted together, the mozzarella's tenacity and opacity creating lava lamp-like bubbles. It smells like cream and sugar, but also like pizza. "This is what my slice is supposed to look like," Paul holds one up proudly, and it doesn't droop. It's crisp and light and bready. The mozzarella never gets chewy. The secret ingredient has melted into everything, leaving only an addictive flavor behind.
·All Pizza Week 2012 Coverage [~ELA~]

Pitfire Pizza

12924 Washington Blvd Culver City, CA 90066

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