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Discovering Umami in Neapolitan Pizza at 800 Degrees

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When Adam Fleischman announced that he had teamed up with long-time Michael Mina chef Anthony Carron, the food world did a double take. Carron may seem like an odd choice for Fleischman's first foray into pizza, 800 Degrees, but for the Umami Group, 'different' has always meant 'better.' Carron goes by "Anthony" and "Chef," not "Tony." He doesn't have the same kind of easy swagger and casual manner as the other pizza guys and gals in this town. His chefs' coat is starched and pristine; his movements are deliberate and precise. How does he keep his wits about him with so many pies going into the two ovens each minute?

Carron is new to pizza in Los Angeles. He explains, "I wanted to get out of fine dining, I wanted to be doing something casual, exactly like this, where I had control of the whole process."

800 Degrees uses what's know in the industry as 00 or "double-O" flour. It's an Italian high-gluten flour that's great for bread. Also in 800 Degrees' simple dough: sea salt and the company's starter which "came from a pizza place just outside of Naples, a 200 year-old-bakery in Ischia, Italy." The dough is mixed and then rests, already made into neat balls, for 24 hours before being shaped into a pizza.

Carron demonstrates what's called "the stretch and slap method." He's waking up the dough, in a way, by slapping it around a bit. It's slightly different from the pressing and molding seen at other pizza joints.

Carron's sauce is simple, too: California organic tomatoes (that contain no citric acid or calcium chloride), salt, and basil. The ingredients are blended together to create a raw sauce that cooks once it's in the oven. On top of the sauce goes the mozzarella from Di Stefano, a local dairy. Basil tops the cheese, then a sprinkle of parmesan, and a drizzle of California Olive Ranch's extra virgin oil.

"The oven is usually hotter than 800 degrees. The top of the dome can get up to 1200 degrees, that's why the pizza cooks in about 60 seconds," says Carron. He has to cool the floor of the oven down before the pizza Margharita can go in. He's using almond wood because "it has the highest BTU and produces the least amount of ash." We start talking about leopard spotting just as small black bubbles begin appearing on the crust of the pizza. Moments later, Carron pulls the finished pie out, examines the bottom for blackness and pronounces it "good." He then sprinkles on some flakes of Maldon sea salt. A guy comes over with a pizza cutter and slashes the pizza. The dough is light, but blistered and smoky. The olive oil is grassy. The sauce is both sweet and pungent, and the combination of that plus the mozzarella and parmesan creates the sensation of umami on the tongue. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
·All Pizza Week 2012 Coverage [~ELA~]

800 Degrees

10889 Lindbrook Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90024