Training Pizza Makers Takes Patience
As an owner or an operator of a pizza shop you are undoubtedly the master of your craft and the master of your domain. You have a product that you take great personal pride in. Over many years you have worked tirelessly to create, build and maintain a loyal audience of customers who love the pizza you make. The laws of nature dictate that you cannot forever be the only one making those beautiful pies 24/7. The time inevitably comes when you need to train someone else to take that lead position of pizza maker that you have perfected. It can be a daunting task at first, but it need not be. There are some basic ideas that need to be adhered to when training that next great talent.
Consistency is going to be key to maintaining that loyal following. Your new pizza maker will need you to give them the tools to succeed. The first tool you can give them is your patience. Rome was not built in a day, and your protégé will not be a master overnight. Have realistic expectations for the time involved with their growth. Remember how many of your first pies were served straight to the garbage can. You are not cloning yourself. If you’re ready for another Rome reference, remember that all roads lead to Rome. What we mean here is that we are looking for a great finished product from the new pizza maker. As long as they are following your guidelines then be patient and allow them to create in a way that best suits them. They may not put eight pounds of pressure on their index finger on the left hand the way you do when stretching out a piece of dough. That’s fine. Resist the urge to micromanage and allow them to grow and develop their own comfort zone so long as the finished product is consistent with what you have long created.
Training Pizza Makers in Each Station
Pizza making is a craft and you cannot train a master craftsman overnight. For some it will take weeks to master a station and others months, but each station in the process must be mastered first before moving to the next.
Start with making dough. The trainee should first become an expert at making dough. This does not mean just four steps in the mixing bowl, rather they need to be taught a full understanding of the composition of dough from flour, yeast, hydration, etc. Only then will they learn how and why dough can behave and react in different ways. This will allow them the knowhow to troubleshoot any issues that may ever arise with dough if you are not there standing over their shoulder.
When it comes to opening and stretching dough, regardless of your style of pizza, it is once again important that they do this in a manner consistent with what you have always done. So many factors need to be spot on, the consistent thickness of the dough when it is stretched out, the makeup of the crust along the edge of the pizza, and the correct size and shape of the pie. It just takes time and experience to get to that desired sweet spot of craftsmanship. Be prepared to work with them and throw out an inordinate amount of dough. It is a long learning process for an art which you can do in your sleep but is a completely foreign concept to the trainee. Think of the muscle memory and feel that you have when it comes to handling dough. You did not develop that overnight. You were once a hot mess when you were learning. Now be patient when creating the next great pizza superstar.
Next comes the actual construction of the pizza. Though this part may seem less complex it is still important for that new pizza maker to spend an adequate amount of time training on this station as well. Consistency in the amount of and distribution of the sauce needs to become second nature. For those of you who do not use measured portions of cheese, the maker will need to learn the correct ratio of cheese to be using. When it comes to topping a pizza, many rookies think that more is better. Taking the time to learn the station and not overtop pizzas will be key to developing that comfortable and consistent repetitious motion when pizza making.
The baking of this beautiful creation is where all the training now comes through to fruition. For those who use conveyor ovens you are in luck because a lot of this portion of the process is now automated for you. For the rest this part takes careful consideration and focus. We rarely cook one pizza at a time so the ability to cook dozens of pies at one time often across multiple ovens is a true art. There is a uniqueness in the cooking styles of many different types and brands of ovens. Many factors come into play from cooking on hot spots, to rotating a pizza and putting it back in the same spot, developing a rotation across decks and ovens to always keep an order for stone heat recovery, and keeping those cooking surfaces swept clean. Taking the time to work side by side with your trainee on this part will help them overcome the nerves of not cooking a pizza properly or losing control of the rotation of where every next pizza should be cooked. You will serve as a safety net for them in this ever-stressful part of the process.
And lest we forget the fun of launching pizzas off peels for the first time. Remember how many times you ended up sending piles of cheese and toppings off the pizza and into the oven only to burn into a smoky mess that needed to be cleaned up. How long did it take you to learn how to launch a pie into the oven that came off the peel in a round shape? Certainly, those who worked with you in the beginning saw their fair share of your pizzas that came out shaped like a football. It takes time. Patience is key to creating a consistent pizza maker. The amount of time it takes will not be the same for everyone. A commitment to patience and consistency when training will pay off as these new pizza makers are the ones that will carry your now great brand into the future.
Michael Androw owns E & D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut.