A little less than a year ago, I became a restaurateur and opened Co. with a sole vision: celebrate bread as the centerpiece of life, not just some obligatory roll on a plate. Sounds easy, right?
I've never really considered myself a restaurateur, a chef, or a cook. I'm a baker. I'm kinda like this big kid who wants to play with gooey blobs of dough all day. But maybe I'm an artist or a scientist or an innovator too; I don't know. I just want to get people to look at food in a new way and to understand ingredients, how they exist naturally and how they interact with fire and water. After all, I'm just a facilitator of ingredients, of edible materials, and dough is my medium.
There are those of us who feed and those of us who are fed. There is something exploratory and sensual and erotic about feeding people. It's kind of crazy to think about it like that especially because the restaurant scene has really become grossly ceremonious, hyped and full of expectations. Personally, I prefer unceremonious dining. For me the ceremony is the act of dining with and among others. The ceremony itself is eating with people. Co. is founded on that principle. Company, from the Latin cum panis literally means "with bread." Really, I just want to feed people, to have them come together and share good food.
I sought to open Co., to create this organic place. What I mean is, I don't ask my kitchen staff to manipulate ingredients to fit some pre-exisiting ideal of how a pizza should look. We don't place each piece of cheese perfectly on a pie--where it lands, it lands. Our menu tells guests: "Our Pies are Not Always Round." It's a joke but it isn't. People expect pies to be round. They expect each slice to have 3.5 pieces of pepperoni. I'll never serve what people think is a pepperoni pie.
Pepperoni as we think of it doesn't even exist in Italy. It means pepper. So maybe I'll do something interesting with a pepper. I'll make a pizza sauce out of red peppers instead of tomatoes and that will be Co.'s pepperoni pie. I'll staff my kitchen with cooks and chefs who look at a pepper and think, "What else can I make with this pepper?" and not, "I just learned a pepper dish." I've always been one to explore and play, and I've carried that thought process with me my entire life.
Forcing a pizza, or anything, to fit into a perfectly round circle takes away from the pleasure of cooking. It compromises the integrity of the ingredients. While my roots are in Italy and the Roman and Neapolitan styles have influenced me greatly, that's not what I want Co. to be. My pies are my bread. Co. is Jim Lahey's version of the modern day global pizza parlor, not a modern day Italian pizza restaurant. But as Co. grows and I grow to create a full cyclical menu with seasonal pies, I think the guests of Co. will begin to understand what we are.
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