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Peter Taylor: Democratizing Pizza

Veteran pizzaiolo Peter Taylor has religiously studied the art of pie-making the world over, poking his head into blazing brick ovens throughout Europe, the Americas and the Far East.

His unvarnished assessment: Itís all still a work in progress.

ďI donít think any one culture has it right,Ē he told Roll Call.

Thatís why Taylor, who says heís been experimenting with artisan dough and self-engineered hearths for more than 20 years, formally abandoned his accounting and tax practice a few years ago to launch Tampaís original Wood Fired Pizza (2822 E. Bearss Ave.).

Slice of Life

The New York native grew up eating the prodigiously sauced, famously floppy slices that avowed pizza fans often tout as the gold standard in foldable feasting. But as he gobbled up comparative samples, moving from New York to Virginia and eventually landing in Central Florida, Taylorís passion for unimpeachably delicious pizza mushroomed even as his palate progressively suffered.

When the opportunity presented itself to visit the birthplace of baked Nirvana ó Naples, Italy ó Taylor flew across the pond to touch and taste history. After huddling with Neapolitan icons and sampling their collective efforts, Taylor became even more disillusioned than before.

ďIíve seen what the masters do. And I donít agree with it,Ē he said.

His chief complaints were that the crust was invariably too soft, the flash-fired pies remained soupy in the middle and, worst of all, there was no pepperoni to be found.

Reverse Engineering Greatness

Since no one else seemed to be capable of meeting his exacting standards, Taylor set out to produce the closest approximation to the perfect pie he could muster.

The Raquel Low Dome oven, which he first tested on his personal patio but has since migrated to Wood Firedís kitchen, is the offspring of Taylorís fierce determination. The cooking center emulates the same round shape and dimensions used in the production of Naplesí coveted brick ovens, with several modern flourishes, not the least of which is the adoption of insular ceramic tiles similar to those that protect the space shuttle from blazing to cinders upon re-entry. Heís also fine-tuned the venting design and adjusted cooking times. And thatís only the hardware.

Taylor prepares his dough with wild yeast ó he claims to maintain one strain captured during a tasting trip to the renowned coal-fired haven Patsyís Pizzeria in Harlem, N.Y. ó and lets it rise, naturally at room temperature.

ďOn a technical level, I have captured a strain of wild yeast which is a dominant local micro flora that makes my crust easily digestible,Ē he said, billing his heirloom crust as the panacea gluten-free fans have long been pining for.

Taylor pads each pie with ingredients plucked from neighboring Natural Health Family Farm, a trusted producer that keeps him (and customers) supplied with all the fresh arugula, basil, spinach and tomatoes anyone can eat.

Honor Roll

Though heís been out of the area for a while, Taylor continues to keep tabs on the D.C.-area pizza scene.

He doesnít get, for instance, all the fanfare surrounding local favorite Two Amys. ďIím not a huge fan of it,Ē he confided, of the crowded Cleveland Park favorite.

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