Katsuya Fukushima & Mary Mendoza from Tonari in Washington D.C.

Katsuya Fukushima spent 15 years working for José Andrés in Washington D.C., and it allowed him to travel the world. But his upbringing in Hawaii also influenced his palate, and his Japanese heritage also plays a role on his menus. He now cooks Wafu – Japanese inspired Italian – at Tonari in D.C.’s Chinatown, where he and pastry chef Mary Mendoza have collaborated on a mentaiko corn Detroit style pizza that is just stunning.

Brian Strutz from A Dopo in Knoxville

Like several of Knoxville’s best chefs and restaurants, owner Brian Strutz is an alum of Blackberry Farm’s kitchens. A Dopo is an homage to a life-changing trip he took to Italy years ago, where all they had was an oven. Strutz still uses an all-natural starter and his staff pulls mozzarella curds each day. Serious Old School in Tennessee! NOTE: on this episode, we also mention Potchke, an Eastern European-inspired deli Strutz is involved in. His business partner Laurence Faber and wife Emily Williams are the creators of that concept.

Jenny Olbrich from The Esters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Jenny Olbrich has had a multi-faceted career – from private chef to designer…eventually landing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at The Esters – a bar and restaurant with a tidy pizza program. She talked about her path, and how she managed to crank out hundreds of pies at a time in a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet.

Max Balliet from Pizza Lupo in Louisville

Max Balliet has held odd jobs in mechanics, but a life-changing trip to Italy as a kid shaped his future career. He didn’t see much of a pizza culture in his native Louisville, so he decided to create something completely unique – a neo-Neapolitan style pizza based on an all-natural sourdough starter – and now Pizza Lupo is one of the best places to grab a pie in all of Bourbon Country.


Lenny Rago from Panino’s Pizzeria in Chicago

Lenny Rago has been working in professional kitchens since he was 14. Now in his 50s, the Chicago native has built Panino’s into a pizza powerhouse, creating nearly a half dozen types of pie at three different locations. We met up with him at his Evanston location, where he showed off a classic Chicago tavern style, as well as a preview of his deep-dish, which will be launching in the new year.

Daniele Cason from The Pizza Bar on 38th in Tokyo

Daniele Cason has been the Executive Chef at The Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo for more than a decade. As a Rome native, he wanted to bring pizza to the restaurant, and did so in the form of a small L-shaped bar with just a few seats called The Pizza Bar on 38th. He recently began offering only an omakase (tasting) experience for guests, requiring a two to three month advance reservation. His pizzas are simply sublime.

Mike Lange from Noble Pie in Calgary

Ontario native Mike Lange was a graphic designer who happened to be backpacking in Australia when he met his girlfriend (a fellow Canadian). They decided to set up shop in her hometown of Calgary, where Noble Pie has been a hit almost since it opened. Demand these days is off the charts, for Lange’s artisan thin pies, inspired by New York City pizza.

Connie DeSousa & John Jackson from Connie & John’s Pizza in Calgary

Connie DeSousa and her business partner, John Jackson worked together in San Francisco, and since both are Canadians, eventually moved back to open CharCut in Calgary. They’ve also got CharBar there, and more recently, Connie & John’s Pizza, which is a takeout only operation, though you can sometimes eat upstairs from CharBar if there’s seating open. We tried both their New York style, as well as their Detroit, and made an appointment to see them build one of those Detroits in their kitchen above CharCut one afternoon. 


Matthew Wilde from Bob’s Pizza in Chicago

We’re back in Chicago and no, we’re not talking about stuffed or deep-dish or tavern-style, but rather, a hybrid between New York and artisan at Bob’s Pizza. The New York part comes from the dough – it’s stretched to 18”, the slices are foldable with no tip sag, they’re baked on stone hearths and toppings are applied judiciously, all in balance. The artisan part comes from the fact the chef and owner – Matthew Wilde – is a trained chef from Minnesota, who might sweat garlic and reduce cream for a base instead of just tomato sauce (which he also, incidentally cooks before adding it to a pie). He makes his pickles, he uses fine sea salt and most notably, uses beer in his dough rather than water. The results are mighty impressive.

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