What do you get when you cross science, art, and a passion for pizza? Seasoned pizzaiolo Brad Kent, the executive chef at Blaze Pizza and the man who created their amazing proprietary dough.
The self-proclaimed tinkerer started experimenting with making pizza in 2001, and by 2006 he created a mobile business making tapas and catering. He opened his first brick and mortar restaurant in 2010 and by2012, he was already being called “the pizza whisperer”. That was when Brad was approached by Blaze to come up with a recipe for a fool-proof and delicious crust, and he thoroughly delivered. Today, the chain has more than250 locations in the US, Canada and now in the Middle East.
His own restaurant, Olio Pizzeria in Los Angeles,offers a pure artisanal pizza experience.
Brad started young. At the age of seven he was already experimenting in the kitchen. He went to college for a business degree, which he got. But his passion for good food led him to the Culinary Institute of America and then a Food Science degree from Cal State Long Beach. That, and his hands-on experience in running his own food businesses, has really helped shape the way he thinks, from recipe creation to the holistic experience of his clientele.
Brad gave me a tour of Blaze Pizza’s kitchen. We first stepped into the dough room and that’s when it was clear that he has definitely thought of everything.Nothing is left to chance, because consistency is the name of his game. The water that is used in the dough is run through a very complicated filtration system,then the right ratio of minerals are then added back in. Details are everything.
Brad is soft-spoken but his passion for pizza is contagious, not that I need any encouragement.He wants to make sure that you get an artisanal pizza, for the price of a fast-food one. He insists on using the best ingredients. For instance, Brad never compromised on always using cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, and never the refined stuff even though it is more expensive. He learned early on that if there is any oxidation in the oil or it is of lower quality, it affects the gluten development in the dough. He even had it validated and tested by a chemist and a biochemist—Brad is a food scientist, after all.
I asked him about his recipe development journey.And he explained that he had tasted many pizzas and had favorite elements in many of them, but had yet to find one that hit the sweet notes for him in every way. Unlike musicians who can avoid listening to other people’s music, he couldn’t really start from scratch.But he could turn that to his advantage. He tested different recipes, techniques and methods. Finally,arriving at the perfect crust for Blaze Pizza. He still has to make sure that every new branch that opens can recreate it consistently every time. When it doesn’t happen, he stays on it until he figures out what needs to be adjusted. He is nothing if not tenacious.
Even the pressing of the dough was well thought out! Brad was going for a gentle hand-tossed result.Something that requires years of experience and is impossible to be replicated by everyone at a single branch, let alone a global chain. Instead, he worked with the manufacturers of the pizza press. They taught the machine how to mimic his process. So technically,Brad’s magic does sort of touch every pizza that comes out of a Blaze Pizza oven.
He made two pizzas while he was talking to me,never skipping a beat. He would pause sometimes and look at it to make sure that everything was going according to plan. Even when it went into the oven, he kept a constant eye on the pizza. Gently poking and moving it. It all payed off because perfect pizza came out of that oven. He explained how at every step the person handling the pizza has the right and duty to stop and start a new pizza if they feel it won’t turnout perfectly. It is after all a “human-made” product and not a machine creation. He is not ashamed of a mistake but he does think that they can and should be fixed at the first instance they are noticed. This is another perk of the assembly line system he devised.While for the diner, the pizza building experience it also means that the staff are highly trained in their job and can quickly spot and stop a problem.
And I realized I had made a mistake when I asked him about reheating leftover pizza. He gave me a really incredulous look. He laughed and asked “Why would there be leftover pizza?”. It makes sense, no one in their right mind would leave a single slice of his pizza behind. But sometimes we order too much. His advice, step away from the microwave and follow the instructions on the box. His personal preference is not to reheat it at all and just enjoy it as it is.
The next time I have leftover pizza, not that it will happen anytime soon, I am going to do just that. It was an honor to taste pizza made by the great pizzaiolo himself. And while I did ask him for tips on making a good homemade pizza. He said, keep it simple.Dough, sauce and cheese is fine. And a maximum of three toppings. It is also the same advice he gives to people building their own pizza.
But I think I will just be heading to Blaze Pizza.Simply because, I know that he has personally designed and approved the process and I will always get the perfect pie.
Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza is located in Grand Plaza – TheAvenues. For Blaze Pizza’s latest updates and news follow them on Instagram @BlazePizzaME.
Featured image courtesy of Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza