Chef Craig Whitson Shares A Passion for Pizza

book-coverIn A Passion for Pizza: A Journey Through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite, a team of award-winning authors, photographers, and designers collaborate to produce an amazing cook book, history book, and travel guide celebrating one of the world’s favorite foods. Craig Whitson, Tore Gjesteland, Mats Widen and Kenneth Hansen bring us vibrant stories of pizza’s past, and the unique personalities working with this food today. A Passion for Pizza shares not only how to make delicious pizza, but also where to find it, taking readers from the bustling streets of New York and Chicago to the sunny coast of California and, of course, to the most infamous place for pizza-making in the world, Naples, Italy. A Passion for Pizza offers over 40 pizzeria profiles, 20 profiles of the people behind the pizza, and 50 easy-to-follow, mouth-watering recipes. We have the book’s delicious recipe for the world’s most famous pizza, the Margherita La Casa, here! Chef Criag Whitson took time to chat with us about his own love for pizza, and his hopes for the book. 

Tell us a little about why you wanted to create your book.
Even though there are lots of great books about pizza on the market, we wanted to explore the possibility of a new twist on one of the world’s most popular dishes. 

Why did you decide to split the book into profiles and recipes?
We started by asking ourselves if it was really necessary to write another book about pizza. The discussion led us to wanting to write the the book we hadn’t read, the one presenting all the talented people connected to the pizza business – not just the cool pizzaiaolo in a tiny pizzeria in Naples, but also the people who provide the ingredients, jounalists, pizza “suits,” and all the others who together provide us with this round disc we enjoy so much. We were convinced that readers would like to read about all these people and even though there are several great cookbooks for pizza, we really wanted to provide readers with our spin on making pizza at home. By adding recipes we could involve some of the people we presented in the book, using some of their favorite recipes. We also thought that home cooks needed a dough and sauce recipe that are easy to prepare, but more flavorful than they are used to making. Lastly, there were pizza recipes we hadn’t seen in the popular cookbooks. We felt these pizzas needed a showcase, and our book was the right place to present them.

How did you choose which cities to profile?
For the most part, the cities chose themselves. There are a number of cities we wish we could have covered (among others New Haven, Detroit, St. Louis, Tokyo, etc.), but we knew we needed to concentrate our efforts on (and here I am treading on thin ice) the most important pizza cities. As far as the US goes, I think most people would agree that New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco were musts. And we could not ignore the importance of having Chris Bianco in the book; therefore Phoenix. As far as Italy goes the main stops are Naples and Rome, and Sicilian pizza is very important both in Italy and the US. The other Italian cities were important mostly because of a single person or pizzeria (such as Franco Pepe in Caiazzo).

What is your favorite thing about the final book?
I don’t know if there is one single best thing about the final book. When I was at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas this year to launch the book, I was amazed at all the compliments we received from people who work with pizza, both the ones featured in the book and loads of others who were attending the show. There were several people who bought the book one day and came by the day after to tell me how much they enjoyed it. On a personal note, it was great to finally have one of my books released in the States. 

What do you want people to come away with after reading your book?
My hope is that readers come away having experienced pizza in a new way, and that they understand how much hard work goes on behind the scenes. I hope the book inspires readers to visit some of the people and places featured in the book and that it inspires them to make better pizzas at home. Most of all I hope the book makes readers hungry! 

Enter our May/June Books We Are Loving Giveaway to win A Passion for Pizza, along with two more amazing books featured in our May/June issue. 

Pizza Margherita La Casa
Yield: 1 (12-inch [30-cm]) pizza
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  1. 1 Neapolitan Dough, 9 ounces (260 g)
  2. 1/3 cup (90 mL) "Simple Is Often Best" Tomato Sauce
  3. 8-10 fresh basil leaves
  4. 4 ounces (110 g) fresh mozzarella di bufala, shredded
  5. Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
  6. Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  1. Place a baking stone in the oven, and preheat to 500°F (260°C) or higher for 1 hour.
  2. While the oven is preheating, stretch the pizza dough to a diameter of 12 inches (30 cm).
  3. Spread the sauce over the dough, leaving a 1-inch (3-cm) border.
  4. Distribute the basil over the sauce.
  5. Spread the mozzarella over the pizza. Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pizza and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Bake the pizza until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
  7. Remove the pizza from the oven and place it on a plate. Drizzle a bit more of the olive oil over the pizza, and serve.
  1. You can use fresh tomatoes instead of sauce as long as they are ripe. If you do, sprinkle a little salt on the tomatoes.
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