Thursday, September 22, 2005
My father would tell people he was a "cook" never a chef or proprietor of many successful restaurants, although he was both. His hands, large and calloused from years of burns and cuts left un-fussed over, were his battle wounds to prove it. Those same hands could move quickly around his no thrills kitchen like an expert piano player over his keys. The speed in which he moved would make me cringe when he rapidly chopped, cut and diced ingredients for some patron’s meal. To me, it looked as if he was just about to chop off his fingers right before my eyes, but luckily his expert moves always narrowly missed doing so. Although I’d retreat to making my own mixed concoctions from the soda machine while he was cooking different meals, I’d always watch intently when it came time to making pizzas. Forever mesmerized over the process and being involved in making the final ambrosia.
He’d start by showing off to me and the customers, tossing and catching the flour dabbed dough that he'd make in the early morning hours. The flour dust forever clinging to his clothes and making him smell like the ingredients of a pizza pie long after he left the restaurant. The trick to throwing dough, he’d say, was using your fists and moving them quickly in circular movements underneath the pancake flattened dough, building momentum. That, I could do, but catching the wobbly dough after it’s carelessly flung into the air and not letting it stretch to the floor or puncture the stretched-thin raw bread with my eagerly waiting fingers, was a different story. My dad was far from being a gentle man. Yet, the big brute could toss and catch pizza dough as if he was in some Olympic egg tossing competition and the heavy dough merely a feather floating down into his outstretched hands.
Once the dough was laid onto the wooden block and lengthened to the right size, his homemade marinara sauce could be poured on top. He’d guide my hand to the large metal ladle, filled to the brim with cold sauce, and to the very center of the dough. Together, circulating outwards to only an inch away from the edge, saving room for the crust to form, we’d drop the sauce leaving a bloody red trail in its wake.
He could fill a whole pizza with shredded mozzarella with just a quick magical circular gesture with his arm, covering the scattered pieces of cheese evenly on the pie. Under my breath I’d whisper “Bippity Boppity Boo,” while looking down to see if any of the shredded strings missed the wet pizza dough. He never did, so I’d have to sneak some cheese out of the metal container to munch on.
When the restaurant wasn’t too busy he’d sometimes let me put on whatever toppings were needed for the order. I’d take my time making sure each disc shaped pepperoni and cold mushroom were laid out evenly across the surface, while my dad pretended to be annoyed and huffed and puffed behind me. But once the toppings and preparations for the pie are accomplished, came the more challenging part, the javelin thrust it takes to shove the raw pie off the heavy wooden paddle board and into the pizza oven. I could barely lift the large wooden paddle or see over the formidable furnace looking ovens, never mind being able to slide the uncooked pizza off and into the waiting heat without destroying what we just made.
Like all good “cooks” my dad didn’t have to use a timer or peak into the oven to know when the pie was ready, he just did. If the pie was going in the display area, he’d sneak me a warm piece to go with my root beer, 7up, cherry coke drink.
When the pizza was meant for take out, I’d proudly watch the delicious pie being taken away in a cardboard box that we folded and assembled in between the business rush. And the whole time wondering: do they realize all the steps and movements that went into making them that pie? I can’t help but recall all of that work each time I eat a slice of pizza pie, do you?