Firing Up Pizzas and a Whole Lot More
BY CHRISTINA MUELLER
You can’t have a bread and honey–themed issue without at least one ode to the almost universally adored round “bread,” the pizza. But how do you fit the second part of that theme into a story about a local pizzeria? The answer is, you find a pizzeria that is true to its mission of turning out delicious pies, but also so much more.
Yes, Pizza Antica Executive Chef Bradley Ceynowa wants you to love your pizza. An admitted “dough geek,” since taking over as executive chef of the group of four Pizza Antica locations, including one in Mill Valley’s Strawberry Village, Ceynowa has methodically revised the dough recipe, step by step, to make the dough more supple and the resulting crust livelier, not uniformly crispy. Oven temperatures were raised, the sauce recipe was revised from cooked to raw, mixing times were adjusted—countless minute adjustments were made in pursuit of a more delicious pizza.
According to the chef, this fastidious attention to detail, now a hallmark of his work, took years of practice, and a stop-over in fashion and advertising, to develop.
Ceynowa, who hails from San Jose, had an inkling as a young adult that he might be a chef. He graduated from San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy in 1994 and cooked for a few years in San Jose, but the world beckoned and he sallied forth into a career in fashion modeling (he retired in his prime at 29) and advertising, traveling and living around the world before returning to the kitchen in 2004.
That was the year he landed a gig as executive chef for Stockholm’s Globe Arena. “My first event was a Pavarotti concert,” said Ceynowa, who coordinated the food for the arena’s concessions and private parties. “It makes running [Pizza Antica’s] four restaurants less daunting.”
In 2006, Ceynowa realized it was time to come home.
“I wanted to learn,” he said, and where better than the mecca for aspiring chefs, Chez Panisse? Ceynowa knocked on the back door shortly after his return stateside. “Leah [Puidokas, one of Chez Panisse Café’s chefs] let me work there a few days a week,” he said. While there, Ceynowa met Russell Moore, who brought Ceynowa with him when he opened Oakland’s Camino. Back on the line, Ceynowa loved the work. “Proper seasoning is hard to teach,” he said, “but Moore taught me how to do it.”
After Camino, Ceynowa helped Michael Tusk open San Francisco’s Quince, then delved into the art of crafting quality pizza at a fast pace at Oakland’s Boot and Shoe Service and the craft of pasta at Tusk’s Cotogna.
When the Pizza Antica group came knocking with the opportunity to once again take the helm as executive chef, he was ready.
Three years later, Ceynowa trademarks are threaded throughout Pizza Antica’s menu. In addition to the meticulous dough program, the restaurants source as much as possible from local farms and ranches. Longtime local favorite Hobb’s Applewood Smoked Meats supplies all sausages not made in house, including the fennel sausage that tops the Portobello mushroom and roasted onion pizza, and Chico’s Rancho Llano Seco is the de facto ham supplier. At the time of this writing, Ceynowa was working to convert the entire pasta program at Pizza Antica to freshly extruded house-made pasta and expand the house-made cheese program beyond the cow milk ricotta they already make in house.
As a sign of our times, Pizza Antica offers an extensive glutenfree menu, including pizza, pasta and piadini, and Ceynowa is developing his own gluten-free pizza crust recipe to be prepared in house. “Requests for gluten-free pizzas have doubled since I started,” said Ceynowa.
And now for the honey part: Mindful of our region’s enthusiastic support for local bees, beekeepers and their honeys, Ceynowa crowns his delicious Tuscan fried chicken with honey sourced from a five-acre farm in Woodside that produces exclusively for Bacchus Management Group, the parent of Pizza Antica. Brined for 12 hours, then fried in rice bran oil, the chicken is golden brown and juicy with an affirmative crunch. The Serrano-infused honey gilds the lily with just the right touch of sweetness to balance the soulful richness of the chicken.
Honey, that ancient, yet oh-so-modern nectar of the gods, is just one ingredient at this not-just-for-pizza parlor that proves Ceynowa is as multi-faceted inside the kitchen as he is out.
Christina Mueller writes about food, wine, travel and other earthly delights. View her new travel video series and find information about her cookbooks and other projects at ChristinaMueller.com.
TUSCAN FRIED CHICKEN WITH SPICY HONEY
Recipe courtesy of Chef Bradley Ceynowa, Pizza Antica
Yield: 4 main course servings
INGREDIENTS FOR THE FRIED CHICKEN
Eight 4-ounce chicken thighs, brined (brine recipe below)
2 cups buttermilk
Flour mixture (recipe below)
Rice bran oil for frying
In a large pot over medium-high heat, add enough rice bran oil to cover the chicken (about half full) and bring the oil’s temperature to a steady 325° F.
In a deep bowl, add the buttermilk. Fully submerge each piece of room-temperature chicken, then dredge in the flour mixture, massaging the mixture into every crevice, making sure each piece is covered completely.
Add the thighs, a few at a time, to the hot oil. While cooking, use tongs to flip the chicken around a few times so it brown evenly. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 165°. The exterior of the chicken will be a deep golden brown.
Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Allow the chicken to rest for about 5 minutes.
1 quart water
4 ounces sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 garlic cloves
1 ounce bay leaf
In a large stainless steel pot over medium-high heat, combine the ingredients and cook for 10 minutes, then aside to chill.
4 cups flour
3 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the ingredients.
1 cup honey
1/2 cup red chili flakes
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the honey and chili flakes to a simmer. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from heat, set aside for 30 minutes, then strain, extracting the honey from the chili flakes.
Arrange 2 thighs on each plate and drizzle with honey. Enjoy!
COOKS NOTE: Chef Ceynowa stresses that the key is to press the breading into every possible crevice of the chicken pieces before frying. “That way none of the moisture can leak out of a gap.”