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Monday, October 5, 2009

Flour + Water Pizza Chef Jon Darsky: The SFoodie Interview

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 4:25 PM

click to enlarge Before he was a pizzaiolo, Darsky scouted talent for the KC Royals.
  • Before he was a pizzaiolo, Darsky scouted talent for the KC Royals.
Go ahead, call Jon Darsky a pizzaiolo, though the Flour + Water pizza maker really prefers "dough guy" instead. Since opening last May in the Mission (2401 Harrison at 20th St.), the restaurant has stayed smoking hot, and Darsky's prowess with a peel has made it as far as the pages of the New York Times (a recent piece called him a "skilled operator"). Still, the 30-year-old dough guy has kept a profile practically on par with a prep cook's. For Darsky, it's less about the glory and more about the grind.

"I enjoy the entire process," Darsky says, "from making the dough to conceiving of different topping combinations to the actual cooking." But mostly, he says, it's about finding fulfillment in the creative process itself.

A native New Yorker, Darsky says he's been a fan of both pizza and baseball since he was a boy. He cites the L.A. Dodgers win in the 1988 World Series as a crucial life event (the club's lingering whiff of Brooklyn was enough to make them seem like the home team). After a stint playing college ball at Tulane, Darsky turned scout for the KC Royals. He worked a kind of de facto six-month apprenticeship at Charlie Hallowell's Pizzaiolo in Oakland as prep guy and dough maker before moving on to Pizzeria Delfina. He was the opening pizza maker at Flour + Water, working with chef Thomas McNaughton.

Borrowing a phrase from A.J. Liebling, Darsky calls cooking the sweet science. "It's a simple yet creative that produces something tangible that not only am I proud of," he says, "but that I can give to people." Talk about seriously delicious dedication. -- John Birdsall

SFoodie: How'd you find your way to the kitchen?

Darsky: After synagogue in Oakland, I drove to Pizzaiolo and asked them if they needed someone to help with the pizza. They said yes, and I eventually got the job making pizza dough, washing broccoli rabe, and overcooking beets.

Flavors, ingredients, or techniques you have an irrational attachment to?

Fennel pollen. I haven't used it that often, but for some reason I'm obsessed with the process of harvesting, drying, and screening the pollen.

Most overrated ingredient in S.F?

Patty pan squash. It never seems to taste like much.

Most overrated food trend in S.F.?

I'm not sure about the question: "overrated food trend." Aren't all trends overrated? Isn't that what makes something a trend? Maybe not ....

Biggest screw-up in the kitchen?

Not having enough pizza dough ready for an entire night of service.

Favorite off-night restaurant?

La Ciccia in Noe Valley. It is what it is -- an Italian (Sardinian) restaurant, which is a beautiful thing. The owners (husband and wife, I think) are there every night it seems -- the chef/owner cooks the pasta every night; he knows his ingredients, says hello, and thanks the guests; he and his wife select great wines together, and the servers never describe the wine as being "fun."

Chef from another genre or cooking style who inspires you?

Victor Arguinzoniz of [Basque restaurant] Asador Etxebarri. Because he cooks only with wood and charcoal. He's genuinely passionate about what he's doing.

Guiltiest food pleasure?

Meat of any kind.

Favorite music to cook by?

Johnny "Guitar" Watson, "Superman Lover."

What show would you pitch to Food Network?

Follow a young American cook as he or she goes to a foreign country to cook in a restaurant.

Celebrity chef who should shut the hell up?

Gordon Ramsay; I think he's way, way, way too loud.

Favorite food city?

San Sebastian, Spain.

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Mary Ladd


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