From Stephen Lott, Chef de Cuisine at Pizzeria 712:
Have you ever got out of bed in the morning, pulled on your jeans, then stumbled clumsily toward the bathroom to brush your teeth. You hop in your car, drive to work, and an hour later finally realize that you were still half asleep, and cannot even remember the start to your morning? Still, you managed to go through your routine, and not smash into the car ahead or beside you.
I feel this way sometimes, but I am not just talking about my amazing ability to sleep walk. I am talking about going through the daily routine, never stopping to think “why do I pull my left sock on before my right?” Today, my friend and colleague Maggie asked me to write a little about why us folks at the pizzeria pull our mozzarella twice daily, every day we open our doors. I thought she may be crazy, or just out of interesting blog ideas; but then I actually stopped to think about it. Sometimes, a little thing like that can make you remember the importance of a routine, or in this case; the importance of taking 10 minutes extra to make a delicious fresh cheese.
I remember all my experiences in different kitchens. I have worked in quite a few, and in just about every kind, from fast food, to fast casual, to fine dining. The work was enjoyable, and they all taught me how to be fast with my hands, efficient, and how to pull myself out of the weeds when the grill cook is yelling for his side plate. In the end though, that was the only thing I took with me to the next kitchen job. You should have seen the “plates” I was trying to create. I think there was one with asparagus wrapped in a pounded chicken breast, and dressed with a soy sauce and peanut oil dressing. Or maybe a frozen fish fillet, so overcooked that you could play hockey with it as your puck. They called us cooks, but I never really felt that way. I knew that we were not cooking, we were repurposing some partially prepared “ingredient” and throwing it on a plate.
When I awkwardly walked into the pizzeria for the first time, to ask Taylor Mason (chef at the time) if I could intern for them, i knew something was different about the place. Everything I did that day was so new to me. The first time I had been taught to pull mozzarella, I was blown away. I know I am skinny, and any stray wind might get me off my feet, but this was more like flying. The flavor, and texture was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Too many times I had made a caprese salad, with out of season tomatoes and refrigerated, pre-packaged mozz, just to be so underwhelmed. Not this time. I could have cried, if I was the kind of guy that cries; and I am.
You may be confused when you hear us say “pulling mozz”, so I am going to help clarify this. We buy the best mozzarella curd. At this point, it is just a tasteless block of cultures and cream. We break it down into tiny pieces in a bowl, add salt and extremely piping hot water, and stretch the curd into a silky, creamy, spongy ball of pure heaven. Almost like a cloud floating on a creamy and buttery ocean. We then keep it in the warm salt water to preserve its flavor and texture. This is done twice a day, and takes all of 15 at the most. This is what makes it so important. It is so simple, and makes the biggest difference. Sometimes it seems that humans (especially cooks) focus so much on the how, but not often enough do we really ponder the why. So why is it so important to me? Because it is delicious, fun, fast, and pretty much a no-brainer. Mostly though, because I love it, and I know the guests will love it, and that is the most important thing to me.
So thank you Maggie, for helping me remember the little things.