“When I opened back in ’88, I never dreamed that anybody would ever want to read anything I had to say,” says Chris Bianco, known to the food world as a master of his craft, almost a pizza savant. (In 2015, Bill Addison, Eater’s restaurant editor, wrote that Bianco’s pizza “rewired [his] synapses.”) But Bianco’s aspirations were always pretty simple. When he opened his namesake pizza restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, the chef says he had one plan: “to survive and pay my rent.”
Nearly three decades later, Bianco’s path is paved with national awards and praise from a global collection of fans — including some famous ones. And next week, Bianco releases his first cookbook, announced in 2013, and titled Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like. The chef says he “struggled with it” because it’s his first book. “At the beginning you want to put so much into it... But I didn’t want it to be confusing. I tried to make it more of a book that was empowering, to reinforce what people already knew,” Bianco says. “If I can I do this thing, I guarantee that you know more than you [think you] do and you can make not only these recipes, but maybe it will help people find their own path.”
Cookbooks have long been a part of the chef’s life, well before he began cooking professionally. “I always found my mother and grandmother’s cookbooks — and also old Gourmet magazines — to be such a large part of my inspiration,” Bianco says, noting that printed photographs of the finished dishes were almost more important than the recipes, helping him envision the final product he wanted to create as he dabbled in the kitchen with doughs and cheese and sauce.
At just over 200 pages — only about 30 of which discuss pizza — this wasn’t meant to be an end-all-be-all book about mastering the dish that made him famous. “I didn’t want, by any means, to say, ‘Oh my God! This is the last book you’ll ever need on pizza, pasta, whatever,” Bianco says. “This is just, hopefully, something to add to your arsenal to give you another perspective.”
When asked if the recipes are the same as the ones Bianco uses every day at his restaurant, he says he “didn’t dumb anything down” but confirmed they had been adapted for the home baker. “I didn’t want it to be too science-y or geeky,” he says. “There’s so many great geeky books out there. You know Jim Lahey’s books and my buddy Chad [Robertson]'s book, Tartine Bread. My cooking was always more of a process. I like to say, ‘You learn things when you burn things.’”
Instead, Bianco says his intention was to share his interpretations and write “something people might enjoy.” He considers his loose style an approach to cooking: “I think of recipes as like music, and writing a book about [cooking] is like writing a book about playing guitar. At the end of the day it will be your willingness to practice that will give you the understanding you need to make the product you want.” According to Bianco, making great pizza is like that joke about getting to Carnegie Hall: All it takes is “practice, practice, practice.” Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like, hits bookshelves on July 25 and is available for pre-order now.
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