Monday, April 26, 2010

Events: Will Fain's Pizza Party

Host: Will Fain

(all photos by Adam Lindsley)

Will Fain is the only other person I've met in Portland who's as big of a pizza fanatic (read: total pizza geek) as I am. He's been providing pizza intel to Adam Kuban of Slice for a few years now, and was even interviewed for the weekly Pizza Obsessive feature on that site. We connected via this blog (you'll know him as Flushy McBucketpants in the comments here on TIP), and when he emailed me to let me know he'd be throwing a pizza party at his house, I jumped at the opportunity. Hey, I'm always willing to try someone else's pizza recipe, if for no other reason than to look for ways to improve my own experiments in the kitchen (i.e. outright steal any tricks they know that I don't). Plus, free pizza is free pizza.

Will's oven setup is probably a bit more complicated than yours at home. On the center rack is a sheet of aluminum foil, topped by a layer of bricks that acts to prevent massive heat loss whenever the oven door is opened. On the shelf above that is another sheet of foil, with the pizza stone placed on top of it. Will says the extra sheet of foil directly under the stone helps to bounce back some of the heat onto the pizza, creating a more evenly cooked pie.

The dough is homemade, naturally, which is a non-sourdough starter variation on Jeff Varasano's famous recipe. Will breaks away from Varasano further by allowing the dough a warm rise before the refrigerator ferment. This gives the dough a bubbly texture that's just itching to rise in the oven.

First up was Will's take on the Margherita. It boasts a sauce that's been cooked briefly to prevent soupiness, but not so much that it loses the brightness of the tomatoes (a process I too am beginning to find preferable to the uncooked variety, at least when it pertains to my homemade pies). The mozzarella melted wonderfully and didn't burn despite several minutes under the heat of broiler eight inches above it. The crust puffed up nicely around the cornicione. As I had predicted, the dough couldn't wait to start rising in the heat of the oven, and even grew some yummy black blisters toward the center of the pie. The crust had a nice saltiness to it, far more flavorful than some of the professionally made pizzas I've had elsewhere. Just a solid, solid Marg all round.

The pies that followed were just as or nearly as good as that, with a wide array of all-vegetarian toppings. One of the most interesting (but also very mildly flavored) toppings was a cashew cream, inspired by the offerings of his friends Aaron and Dinae's vegan restaurant, Portobello. But the standout, for me, was the stinging nettles. Boiled to remove their sting, then baked on the pizza, they made every bite in which they were present better.

Garlic, basil, leek, and cashew cream pie.

Between pizzas, I got to chat a bit with Will about his history and plans for the future. I learned he spent some time in New York, as well as New Zealand, working as a live-in caretaker there. He's also had experience working at a pizzeria, so he's quite familiar with the fast-paced kitchen environment.

As for the future, he's already designing his own wood-burning oven, and the supplies have been ordered (you better believe you're having me back once that's up and running, Will). He mentioned the possibility of opening a pizza cart, and perhaps creating some vegan pizzas for Portobello. Who knows--maybe you'll be plunking down some cash for Will's pizzas one day soon! If the pies he served us today were any indication, they'll be well worth it.


Will prepping the leek & asparagus pie...

And here it is out of the oven. Look at that monster
blister on the cornicione!

Stinging nettles and hedgehog mushroom pie.

The Vegan: garlic, pine nuts, pesto, basil.

Will rocking the cutter. I gotta get me one a' those.


  1. what i wanna know is: when are we gonna see some shots of your pizzas?

  2. @Flushy: I am such a perfectionist, I don't think anyone will see photos of my pies until I manage to get them exactly how I want them. But I'll make you a deal: build your wood-burning oven and let me cook my pies in it, and you can snap all the photos you want!

  3. Great pictures, and even better looking pizzas! That cashew cream pie looks incredible!

    I'm really interested in that brick heat-retention method, gonna have to give that a try