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CHEF'S TABLE: Craving pizza dates back to the womb

'Even before I was born, I had a connection to pizza. My mom had told me of the intense craving for that ooey-gooey mozzarella and salty pepperoni I made her endure,' writes food columnist
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"When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's amore." — Dean Martin

Pizza is in my blood.

I was born into this life. I did not choose it, it chose me.

Even before I was born, I had a connection to pizza. My mom had told me of the intense craving for that ooey-gooey mozzarella and salty pepperoni I made her endure. The warm, crispy crunch of the crust calling at all the worst times.

Living in Bolton in the '70s, the best spot in town to get a pizza fix was Baffos’s Pizza and Pasta.

Opened in 1971 and operated by Mr. Aldo Buccioni, the restaurant was the local palace of pizza perfection. A small location at 31 Chapel St., just east of the corner of King and Queen streets, would provide what would be my first taste of a food that would come to define my life.

Baffo’s was a family favourite and Aldo was a kind and generous guy. So, in 1977, when my mom and dad decided to make a go of the restaurant business deep in the heart of Muskoka, Aldo was there to help.

He happily provided the recipes, the know-how and the encouragement to build what would become Bass Lake Restaurant.

Sadly, in 2014, the doors were locked and Baffo’s Pizza and Pasta and a Bolton institution closed for good.

But Aldo’s pizza legacy continues to live. Through every pizza I make and get to share I’m sharing a piece of Baffo’s tradition.

Believe me, I’ve made a lot of pizzas. From the early days working with my parents and helping in the kitchen, to working for several large pizza chains and to now sharing pizza nights with my kids, I’ve stretched a lot of dough!

For me, it’s the versatility and creativity that pizza allows. It’s a crowd-pleaser and the combinations are endless.

The only thing more varied than pizza ingredients are people’s opinions on pizza ingredients.

And for the record, I’m pro pineapple … in certain combinations, of course!

Believe it or not, pizza hasn’t always been an outrageously popular dish. In fact, back in the day it was a poor man’s food – a recipe that was meant for convenience, not enjoyment.

We have the Napoli people to thank for our pizza as we know today. It was developed in Naples, Italy in the late 18th century, when bakers chose to add tomatoes to traditional flatbread recipes.

Up until then, most Europeans believed that tomatoes were poisonous, so once word began to spread that they were quite delicious, pizza’s place in culinary history was secured.

It was not a quick rise to stardom. Pizza didn’t grow in popularity here at home in Canada until the 1950s. With the end of the Second World War, there was a new hunger for the flavours and tastes of Italian food that the soldiers posted in Italy had become accustomed to.

Over the next few decades, pizza reached international stardom. Cities began developing their own unique recipes, flavours and styles, and pizza became a symbol of fun and family time.

The Chicago deep dish, Detroit Style, New York Style, and Calzones all have their camps of fans and fanatics. As a serious culinarian, I respect them all and will wholeheartedly enjoy without bias.

I need to squeeze in a word about pineapple. Hawaiian pizza: The internet has debated, arguments have been made and lines have been drawn. But did you know this much-maligned combination was born right here in Ontario? In 1962, The Satellite Restaurant in Chatham would become ground zero in the great pineapple wars when Greek-born Sam Panopoulous grew tired of the same old toppings and decided to experiment with a can of pineapples. What has transpired since I’m sure is beyond his wildest imagination.

It’s the innovators that have brought pizza to its place in our culture. They were rule-breakers and risk-takers, our cultural pioneers and culinary heroes. They stretched out a huge place in our food habits and on our collective culinary history, paved the way for future food innovations and created lifelong pizza fans across the globe.

February is a great month for pizza lovers. Here are just a few highlights:
* Feb. 9 – National Pizza Day: Remember the innovators!
* Feb. 12 – Super Bowl LVII: So many great local spots offering amazing pizza deals.
* Feb. 14 – Nothing says Amore like a big pizza pie!

I hope you all get a chance to grab a slice with friends, relax and let February roll on through.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to order the pineapple.

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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