Picture this: You’re throwing a party and decide to order pizza. You call the restaurant hoping to get through on the first ring while contemplating exactly which toppings will be fan favorites. You wait up to thirty minutes for it to arrive and when the delivery guy shows up at your door, you scramble to find cash, calculate tip and try to muscle your way through the crowd carrying multiple boxes of heavy pies. Then, all your guests bum rush you as they pick through for the perfect slice, putting their fingers all over their piece and everyone else’s. If you’re lucky to snag a bite for yourself, there’s a good chance it won’t even still be hot.
Now, picture this: The delivery guy is actually a renowned chef. He shows up right at your door, on time, and parks himself (literally) in front of your house ready to greet your guests. You don’t have to make any topping decisions because he brings them all for you, and no one will be touching your slice because dammit there’s enough to go around. You can easily access more than just one piece for yourself from the active station, and it’s always piping hot and cooked to perfection right on the spot. There’s no heavy lifting and no stacks of grease stained pizza boxes to dispose of when it’s all done. Oh and the pizza? It’s gourmet.
After eight seasons as Robert Irvine’s Sous Chef on Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible, Chef David Britton has taken his own show on the road…literally. Pies on Wheels traveling pizza truck boasts a 6,500 lb Earthstone wood fire oven preparing specialty creations to cater any private function or large event. Equipped with running water, a compact kitchen and a refrigerated toppings drawer, this chef is always ready to roll.
I had the opportunity to experience the mobile pizzeria first hand when Stew Leonard’s Wines of Norwalk and Castello Monaci hosted a classic food and wine pairing event. Customers were invited to dig into samples of mouthwatering pies while Castello Monaci poured a selection of their hand-crafted vinos inside the store. While beer is often associated with a hot, cheesy slice, Luigi Seracca, Brand Ambassador for Castello Monaci said, “Our wines are a great match with pizza.” Chef Britton agreed. “The flavor profiles and quality of Castello Monaci wines elevate our product and vice versa,” he said. It’s evident the supreme quality is a reflection of the heart and soul put into each bottle. “We don’t buy grapes, we grow all our own,” Seracca said of his family owned vineyard located in the “heel of the boot” of Italy.
Some of the carefully crafted pairings were the Liante Salice Salentino with the spicy fennel sausage, fior de latte and roasted fennel pizza finished with toasted fennel sea salt.
It was also a great match for the smoked eggplant, wood roasted eggplant and arugula tossed in Peranzana extra virgin oilve oil.
The Artas Salento was used to braise the oxtail which was served on a pie with caramelized cipolini onions and gorgonzola. It was also an outstanding compliment to the truffled mushroom pizza with potato confit and aged goat parmesan. For Piluna Primitivo, the classic margarita with fresh basil and crushed tomatoes was a perfect combination.
Chef Britton tells That’s SO Jenn about Pies on Wheels:
TSJ: What’s more challenging, this business venture or your time on Dinner: Impossible?
It certainly depends. That show was never fixed and the challenges were really intense. Particularly because we did so many. The objective of Dinner: Impossible is for us not to succeed so they started interjecting more and more difficult challenges. A lot of difficulty of figuring things out just comes from experience. There are no short cuts, as long as you work hard.
TSJ: Are you still in touch with your former TV colleague Robert Irvine?
CB: Yes, he’s a good guy who’s very good at what he does. He’s a star. I think there were times when he was thankful I was there and I’m sure there were times when I got on his nerves, but that’s the intensity of the show. I consider him a dear friend, a colleague and a bro.
TSJ: Why pizza and why a truck?
CB: It’s a rolling billboard. I bought an old municipal truck on Ebay, designed it, and had it all mobile certified with the health department. The truck is a transformer so every piece locks in. The key thing is the oven. Everything is built to move that oven from point A to point B.
I started with a very classic background in the ACF chef’s apprenticeship, spent a lot of time at the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons, and this is sort of a second life in pure wood cooking. We bought this oven, it’s the largest oven they make commercially, so we could do volume as well as finesse.
TSJ: A traveling party! What can people expect when you pull up to their driveway?
CB: It usually starts out with a package of 50 people and 65% of what we do is private functions; birthdays, special occasions, end of weddings, part of weddings. We’re completely self-sufficient so we can roll anywhere. It’s also build for volume, which means festivals, fairs, the Saratoga race track and Americade. It’s idea for pizzas, but we can also do things like plank salmon, paellas, lobsters, lamb roasts and smoked turkeys.
TSJ: How do you decide what to serve at each function?
CB: We always include the usual suspects; margarita, pepperoni, sausage, and then we bring surprises. We’ll start cooking five or six different kinds and guests can come up and eat. Then they’ll make requests and we just bust a move. It’s a minute to bake, a minute to make so you can ask for it, we make it and we serve it. They’re all 12 inch pizzas, not individual slices. We do whole wheat, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian and we include beverages and salads. We also offer antipastos and wine bars. It’s really in depth with more than just pizza. It’s a lot of fun and very free spirited.
TSJ: What’s your secret weapon for a great pie?
CB: Really nice pure ingredients, a good technique and a little char on the corner, cooked very fast with the integrity of what it was meant to be. We use specific olive oil from Italy, the Saratoga Olive Oil Co., who sponsors us. We also use a crushed Jersey tomato, and we don’t even cook the sauce because it cooks in the oven from the intensity.
TSJ: What is your go-to topping?
CB: Smoked mozzarella. At times just fresh basil, mozzarella and olive oil. It doesn’t get much better than that.
TSJ: Favorite pizza?
CB: White bacon with crispy garlic.
TSJ: Most popular pie?
CB: Margarita. Fresh basil, tomato and mozzarella always seems to be the queen of pies.
TSJ: One topping that should never be allowed on pizza?
CB: We do duck, foi gras, pigs feet. I’ve done cottage cheese and salmon caviar…
TSJ: Sounds like its all fair game! If you could describe yourself as a pizza, what you be?
CB: Me as a pizza? I would have to say simple tomato, garlic and basil.
TSJ: Why a mobile truck rather than a restaurant building?
CB: We don’t have a lot of the burdens restaurants do such as rent. It’s much simpler. I can control everything and I really prefer it. We’re meeting all kinds of people and we have a specific product that we’re very proud of. I’ve spent a lot of time in resorts, I’ve owned restaurants, I’ve done catering and this is just so much fun.
Besides catering 140 events a year (including 40 straight days at the race track!), Chef Britton will be mentoring an amateur chef in a reality show style cooking competition to raise funds for children with terminal illnesses. The event will be held at the Great Escape Lodge in Queensbury, NY this summer. He is also in the process of bottling is own upcoming line of bottled aiolis, agrodolces, gastriques and sriracha.
For more information on Pies on Wheels, call 518-798-0000 or visit www.piesonwheels.com.