Food is like a religion in many respects. Foodies worship at the table of various high priests, inspired by their personalities as much as the cuisine which they promote. The examples are numerous— the locavore inclinations of an Alice Waters, the authentic Italian flavors of a Mario Batali, or the balanced French & Japanese fusion of a Soto Soto. These people are not just chefs. They’re prophets who espouse a viewpoint that colors the way you view the world. You’re either with them, or against them. The hype they generate rarely lives up to the food they serve.
The high priest of Varasano’s Pizzeria is a man by the name of Jeff Varasano. He is the leader of a movement expounding a scientific approach to pizza. Equal parts Alton Brown & Cooks Illustrated—Jeff Varasano believes that perfection of a seemingly simple dish such as pizza is not only possible, but just around the corner. In his eyes—the perfect pizza is easily recognizable. Crisp yet fluffy. Thin yet substantial. It’s a pizza that brings forth child hood memories, but is sophisticated enough that it inspires the respect of the culinary elite.
His wants everyone to understand that his pizza is the process of years of experimentation. The fruit of numerous travels to the best pizza restaurants in the world. It’s the product of a single minded determination towards improvement of a single item. Anyone that reaches the top in any field (even a Rubik’s Cube competition) possesses the ability to focus intently on their craft. It is this dedication that is most apparent when you first meet him.
Once he realizes where you’re from, conversations will revolve around pizza joints in your home town. The next topic will be the pizza resting on your plate. The bubbles in the crust and black markings signify that the oven is at the proper temperature. Thank god he says. They were having trouble with maintaining a proper temperature just last week. The basil leaves are from a new supplier, but he’s still not happy with the quality. He’s contacted a new farmer to grow his herbs. An important items like basil can’t be left to chance. The conversations are a bit forced and awkward. Almost like he’s trying to prove his expertise to a skeptical audience.
The stresses of opening a restaurant for the first time are clearly visible in his eyes. And the insecurity that comes from being presented with direct criticism is noticeable. In what occupation other than the restaurant world is the judgment so sudden and so harsh. The hype this little pizza place has generated may be great for business, but it also means that expectations are set so high; disappointment will often be the result.
Asked about the response he’s gotten from some of the local community, he seems baffled by the vitriol that he’s inspired. Why would someone be angry that they couldn’t place a to go order by phone—after all, that’s what the Tavern at Phipps does? What right does someone have to judge me after just a single meal? These question arise from the part of the mind that helps rationalize failure. They help to plaster over the doubt that starts to seep in the mind of one who is criticized suddenly, and harshly for something that everyone else has praised him for throughout his life.
But, enough about the man. Even though this restaurant currently seems to be more about Jeff and his story, than the food he serves. The focus will eventually shift—and the food will have to stand on it’s own. Luckily for Jeff, it does. The reality is that Varasano’s Pizza serves a damn good pizza. Whether or not he deserves the hype associated with him shouldn’t be the question of the day. The question should be, does he serve food that is worthy of being noticed, discussed and enjoyed. And on this question, the most important question, the answer is clearly yes. And for that—he deserves our respect.
While Jeff may think he needs the confirmation he currently craves, his insecurity will soon pass. Before long he will gather enough true believers in his approach that his beliefs will be validated. The life of a prophet is never easy. Some people will always view you as a heretic. Even if all you’re preaching is a different approach to pizza.
About The Author
This guest post was written by Adam Harrell, a local foodie and interactive marketer. You can find him at www.neboweb.com/blog/