How One Pizza Lover Became a Pie Maker: The Story of Nice Pizza

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All photos by Matt Borowick

The more you cook, the better you get: practice, of course, makes perfect. So when your business is pizza and your life includes tons of pizza-making, long-term experience creates better crusts, sauces, and techniques. We talked to one pizza devotee to see how he became a master.

Benjamin Duff’s first pizza pie came out a triangle. Since this geometric accident, his pizzas are a lot more circular shaped – and always satisfyingly delicious. From eating pizza twice a week as a child, the owner of Nice Pizzeria in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn has rolled out hundreds and hundreds of pizzas, so he knows a thing or two about making some good dough.

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“Did you know that the French eat more pizza than the Italians?” offers Duff, a native of Nice, in southern France. “Nice used to be Italian 150 years ago, but it was given back to the French by Giuseppe Garibaldi. There is a lot of Italian influence, all the names are Italians, all the street names are Italian – they really stayed Italian.”

“My oldest friend, Leonnard Mallo, owns a pizza truck in Nice. He taught me everything about pizza.” Everything. Duff didn’t know how to make a pizza until he opened his pizzeria. He says he mastered the pizza-making process on the job. “As you get busy, you get it.”

Duff’s light as air pizzas are actually way thinner than the Italians’ (if you can imagine it), made using a machine bought from France that flattens the dough very thin. This makes is crispy when it bakes, “and people like crispy,” he says. How he makes “French” pizza, as he calls it, goes like this:

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Above all, have quality ingredients. When making a very simple dish you must have the finest ingredients. All of his ingredients are fresh, and nothing’s canned or frozen. His enchanting “La Baltique” was crowned with pleasantly acidic tomato sauce, moist mozzarella cheese, smoked salmon, lush heavy cream, mushrooms and capers.

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As for the dough: “Everybody’s got their own little thing, but at the end of the day it’s flour, water, salt, oil, and yeast,” says Duff. You have to find your own proportions.

He uses the “Rolls Royce of the flours,” a high grade, double-zero flour. Instead of using Cantalet cheese as he would in France, Duff uses a sprinkle of fresh, milky mozzarella to achieve a cheesy pie. While many choose to top off their pies with a shake of cracked red pepper, Duff (as the French do) prefers a drizzle of spicy homemade oil. Another one of Duff’s master tips: Work the dough for 30 minutes and let it sit for 1 hour. Then, use a lot of flour to prevent sticking.

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What did he learn through all this pizza making, from France to the streets of Brooklyn? keep it fresh, keep it simple.

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by Marisel
Marisel Salazar lives and works in New York City as a food blogger, social media guru, enthusiastic home chef and restaurant hopper. She is the author of bread + butter, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink food blog. Marisel comes to NYC by way of Panama and Japan, which imparted on her a deep love of tortillas (the thick, fried sort), sashimi and noodles. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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