Hot Chef: Make a better pizza with Jarett Appell of Stella 34
Tucked away in Macy’s Herald Square (next to the bedding department), it’s easy to walk right by Stella 34. But you don’t want to — especially when you take a bite of the pizza there, which is overseen by executive chef Jarett Appell. Having trained in Italy (he earned a Mastery of Italian Cuisine while there — we officially have a new diploma we want), Appell is now stateside at Stella after opening Donatella and working at Lincoln Ristorante.
Did you see those recent rankings that put New York pizza below other cities, like Boston and San Francisco?
Pizza is such a weird thing and people have so many different opinions about it; I try not to read into it too much. I just feel like everyone has their own predetermined idea of what pizza is to them. It’s one of those things that we’ve all been eating since we were young. And we all have different tastes and preferences in terms of what type of pizza we all want. Different styles are all good in their own right.
What’s a really unexpected combination that you’ve found great success with for your pies?
You always go with the guide of what’s seasonal, but there’s certain things that I’ve been able to do — like we’ve been doing our cauliflower pizza since we opened. That’s an example of something that’s unique and at the same time, you’re doing something that’s, I wouldn’t say off the rocker, but you’re using different combinations, particularly on a pizza, with cauliflower and lemon and black pepper and stuff like that. Stuff that no one is used to eating in pizza form can lend itself very well to be used that way.
Any tips for the at-home pizza chef?
Turn up your oven to a max temperature, and preheat it until it’s at its max temperature. Then when you go and put the pizza in, if you switch the oven over to a broil setting, with the broil, you’re simulating what your flame would be. When you’re talking pizza, particularly in a wood-burning oven, there’s three primary aspects of the heat that are important. But probably the most important is your actual flame. Your flame is what rises your crust. Having the oven really, really hot will cook the bottom of the pizza and the actual dough, but putting it on broil simulates that actual flame and helps to rise the crust a lot.
Can at-home cooks make a good pizza with store-bought dough?
It depends on where you’re buying your dough. If the place makes good dough, you’re going to have good dough. I know of a lot of people who just go and buy dough from pizzerias in their neighborhood. We’ve had people come and just ask if they can buy a couple balls of dough from us, and they go home and make pizza themselves. I have a couple of buddies that do it all the time. I would be very surprised if a local pizza place wouldn’t do it. Certainly every Neapolitan pizzeria would be willing to do that.
When you’re not working, are you so sick of pizza that you can’t even think about having a slice? Do you ever stop after work for one?
I do once in a while. I live in Williamsburg so I spend a lot of time out there. So for a slice, I’ll go to Best Pizza. They make a really good slice. But other than that, I don’t eat pizza that much anywhere else. It’s not that I don’t crave it or want it, I just don’t want to go eat other people’s pizza.