Is there anything more magical than a delicious slice of pizza? Probably not – especially when it’s hand-crafted from Chris Bianco’s latest cookbook, Bianco: Pizza, Pasta and Other Food I Like, in the beautiful, industrial kitchen of Hot Stove Society, owned by Tom Douglas Restaurants.
If you’ve never been to Hot Stove Society, grab a friend and secure a date for an upcoming class. The cooking school is situated on the second level of Hotel Andra and offers year-round classes that will help you develop valuable kitchen skills in an easy-going and sociable setting. You can learn how to properly cut different meats, shake the perfect cocktail and whip up a dessert with serious wow factor — all in one place. Every class offers something different, including the chef. My class was themed “Cook the Book” with Chef Eric Stover.
Chef Eric prepping for the evening’s class. Courtesy Erin Brown
One of the first things I learned from my two-hour class is that every tasty pizza needs an equally tasty appetizer. We opened our meal with pan-grilled Padrón peppers paired with made-from-scratch, lemon aioli. I learned to make fresh garlic paste, whisk together perfectly textured mayo, and fry peppers without spraying myself with hot oil (I’ll admit, this happens more often than I’d like it to).
Padron peppers with lemon aioli. Courtesy Erin Brown
When cooking these yummy treats, I was told to remember the following kitchen hack: toss the peppers with a light coat of oil before adding them to the skillet. It keeps you from adding too much oil and burning yourself once it begins to pop.
Now, if you’re a baby when it comes to peppers as I often am, fear not! Only one in twelve Padrón peppers are wildly hot, so the odds of enjoying milder flavor is in your favor.
Feeling properly fermented dough. Courtesy Erin Brown
Following the appetizer was my favorite part of the evening: the pizza-making. I was taught how to build fermented dough from scratch, knead it like a master chef and shape it to my desired size. The entirety of the process was more detailed than I would have ever expected. If you didn’t know, there’s serious technique when it comes to kneading, tucking and shaping the dough into a happy round.
Shaping the dough is difficult, but it’s much easier if you let gravity do the work – another valuable kitchen hack I acquired from Chef Eric. Never pull on the dough. Instead, let it fall naturally as you work your way around the edges.
Shaping the pizza dough using Chef Eric’s kitchen hack. Courtesy Erin Brown
Pizza Rosa Courtesy Erin Brown
Assembling the toppings came next. The first pizza was introduced as “Pizza Rosa” and was made by combining very little Parmigiano-Reggiano with red onion, rosemary, unsalted pistachios and olive oil – no sauce. That’s right; no sauce.
I’m sure you’re probably asking yourself, “Is it even pizza without sauce?” and “Why is there so little cheese?” Trust me, I did too. Everything I thought I knew about pizza-making flew out the window during this class, but I followed along with interest (and clearly a lot of questions).
While prepping the toppings for the first pizza, one kitchen hack in particular piqued my interest. Did you know that soaking onions in cold water dilutes the sharp taste many people don’t like about the vegetable? I know – mind blown. I personally love onions, but if you don’t, give this trick a whirl.
Wiseguy Pizza Courtesy Erin Brown
After completing the “Pizza Rosa” it was time for the “Wiseguy”– a pizza topped with yellow onion, flat-leaf leaves, mozzarella, smoked cheddar and sweet Italian sausage. The “Wiseguy,” like the “Pizza Rosa,” took a short 20 minutes to bake and tasted 10x better than any greasy slice I had ever eaten – despite the lack of cheese and sauce.
Rice pudding Courtesy Erin Brown
The night finished with an escarole salad dressed in homemade vinaigrette and a rice pudding that had me daydreaming of dessert for hours on end. I left Hot Stove Society with a wealth of cooking knowledge bouncing around in my brain and a belly full of amazing food, but I also left feeling inspired to cook creatively in my own home.
When it comes to mastering the art of pizza-making, I learned that directions, technique and ingredients are key factors to achieving the perfect pie. Nonetheless, it’s more important to not be afraid of testing the waters (Chef Eric’s #1 tip for amateur chefs) and to have fun along the way!
Escarole salad with homemade vinaigrette. Courtesy Erin Brown
I highly encourage you to attend a Hot Stove Society class. Although following instructions from a cookbook is relatively easy, there’s something special about being taught by a professional chef. Not only are you entertained by their unique personality and mastery in the kitchen, but you learn valuable tips and tricks that a cookbook doesn’t always provide. You can ask question after question, anytime you want! Plus, if you’re a visual learner like me, having someone else walk you through the “uh-oh” moments and show you how everything should look at the end of each step is extremely helpful when testing out a new recipe.
For more information about Hot Stove Society and to see a full list of upcoming classes, visit hotstovesociety.com. Hopefully I’ll see you there!