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Peter Taylor: Democratizing Pizza

Veteran pizzaiolo Peter Taylor has religiously studied the art of pie-making the world over, poking his head into blazing brick ovens throughout Europe, the Americas and the Far East.

His unvarnished assessment: It’s all still a work in progress.

“I don’t think any one culture has it right,” he told Roll Call.

That’s why Taylor, who says he’s been experimenting with artisan dough and self-engineered hearths for more than 20 years, formally abandoned his accounting and tax practice a few years ago to launch Tampa’s original Wood Fired Pizza (2822 E. Bearss Ave.).

Slice of Life

The New York native grew up eating the prodigiously sauced, famously floppy slices that avowed pizza fans often tout as the gold standard in foldable feasting. But as he gobbled up comparative samples, moving from New York to Virginia and eventually landing in Central Florida, Taylor’s passion for unimpeachably delicious pizza mushroomed even as his palate progressively suffered.

When the opportunity presented itself to visit the birthplace of baked Nirvana — Naples, Italy — Taylor flew across the pond to touch and taste history. After huddling with Neapolitan icons and sampling their collective efforts, Taylor became even more disillusioned than before.

“I’ve seen what the masters do. And I don’t agree with it,” he said.

His chief complaints were that the crust was invariably too soft, the flash-fired pies remained soupy in the middle and, worst of all, there was no pepperoni to be found.

Reverse Engineering Greatness

Since no one else seemed to be capable of meeting his exacting standards, Taylor set out to produce the closest approximation to the perfect pie he could muster.

The Raquel Low Dome oven, which he first tested on his personal patio but has since migrated to Wood Fired’s kitchen, is the offspring of Taylor’s fierce determination. The cooking center emulates the same round shape and dimensions used in the production of Naples’ coveted brick ovens, with several modern flourishes, not the least of which is the adoption of insular ceramic tiles similar to those that protect the space shuttle from blazing to cinders upon re-entry. He’s also fine-tuned the venting design and adjusted cooking times. And that’s only the hardware.

Taylor prepares his dough with wild yeast — he claims to maintain one strain captured during a tasting trip to the renowned coal-fired haven Patsy’s Pizzeria in Harlem, N.Y. — and lets it rise, naturally at room temperature.

“On a technical level, I have captured a strain of wild yeast which is a dominant local micro flora that makes my crust easily digestible,” he said, billing his heirloom crust as the panacea gluten-free fans have long been pining for.

Taylor pads each pie with ingredients plucked from neighboring Natural Health Family Farm, a trusted producer that keeps him (and customers) supplied with all the fresh arugula, basil, spinach and tomatoes anyone can eat.

Honor Roll

Though he’s been out of the area for a while, Taylor continues to keep tabs on the D.C.-area pizza scene.

He doesn’t get, for instance, all the fanfare surrounding local favorite Two Amys. “I’m not a huge fan of it,” he confided, of the crowded Cleveland Park favorite.

Taylor seems more excited about the artfully crafted deliciousness Neapolitan native Enzo Alargame slides out of his imported Italian oven at Pupatella.

All things being equal, Taylor suggested that fellow pizza purists seek out his favorite local pie-maker, journeyman pizzaiolo Edan MacQuaid (currently manning the peel at Local 16). “Wherever he is, that’s where I would eat pizza in D.C.,” Taylor said.

Then again, he reveres all those trying to raise the pizza stakes above commercial delivery pabulum. “I think it’s admirable whenever anyone tries to make anything better than a Papa John’s type of pizza,” he said.