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The Perfect Pizza: Chris Bianco Focuses on Quality Ingredients

Pizza

Mark Sacro

The Phoenix chef is known for making some of the best 5-star pizzas in America.

When it comes to pizza, forget New York and Chicago. Phoenix is a slice of heaven, and leading the charge for pizza supremacy is local chef Chris Bianco, the first pizzaiolo to be honored with a James Beard Award, one of the culinary industry’s most prestigious honors. His 5-star pizzas have received numerous accolades, including being called one of the best in America by The New York Times, Food & Wine and USA Today, among others, and have garnered him a loyal following of die-hard celebrity fans, including Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Kimmel.

It’s Bianco’s relentless focus on quality ingredients, technique and execution that makes his pizza stand out, even in a time when exceptional pies can be found in every city throughout the Valley.

It’s Bianco’s relentless focus on quality ingredients, technique and execution that makes his pizza stand out, even in a time when exceptional pies can be found in every city throughout the Valley. “I love to be uber-focused,” he explains. “I believe in doing simple things at a high level.”

A native of Bronx, New York, where pizza is part of everyday life, Bianco grew up eating the cheesy dish after Little League games. His first job was at a local pizzeria folding boxes, lugging bags of flour and slicing pies. After dropping out of high school, he headed west to Phoenix, where he supported himself by making mozzarella in his apartment, running a catering business and making pizzas in a small corner of a grocery store.

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Chef Chris Bianco

Chris Bianco Group

From these humble beginnings, a culinary empire was born. In the mid 1990s, Bianco opened two pizza restaurants, both called Pizzeria Bianco, as well as Bar Bianco, a cozy wine bar next to his pizzeria in Heritage Square. In the early years of his business, he baked every pie himself, further perfecting his art. People waited for hours to experience his legendary 5-star pizza.

Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the pizzas have a crispy and chewy crust with just the right touch of char, gooey cheese and toppings that meld perfectly for a perfect burst of flavor in every bit. Popular menu options at Bianco’s pizza restaurants include the Sonny Boy. Named for Bianco’s father, this pie features tomato sauce, mozzarella, soppressata and Gaeta olives. The Wiseguy showcases wood-roasted onions, house-smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage

Bianco puts time and care into every part of the pizza-making process, and his passion for top-quality ingredients is evident in every dish he creates. He uses regionally sourced flour for his dough, and to ensure the highest quality sauce, he partnered with third-generation canner Rob DiNapoli to create Bianco DiNapoli organically grown California tomatoes.

“When things are simple, you really have to nail the ingredients and the execution, including how things are harvested, transported and stored. Expectations are high, and we always strive to deliver a great experience.”

In the early 2000s, Bianco opened Pane Bianco. What started as a studio for creating breads and recipes with his brother, head baker Marco, has evolved into a popular lunch eatery/marketplace that offers award-winning sandwiches on homemade wood-fired focaccia as well as high-quality products, such as Italian olive oil, spices and the chef’s own brand of tomatoes.

Expanding on his passion for local ingredients, in 2016 Bianco debuted Tratto, an upscale restaurant that serves simple and elegant Italian dishes. “I’ve been making pasta for a long time and wanted to deliver a different experience from the pizzeria,” the chef remarks. “Arizona is an agricultural state with an incredible growing season and amazing products.”

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After more than 30 years in the food business and with nationwide recognition, Bianco remains humble and focused. He is happiest when he is able to spend time at home with his family and while running his Phoenix pizza restaurants. “I’m extremely grateful and honored for the accolades I’ve received and that people like what I do,” he says. “When things are simple, you really have to nail the ingredients and the execution, including how things are harvested, transported and stored. Expectations are high, and we always strive to deliver a great experience.”

Bianco’s pizzas are available for nationwide shipping at goldbelly.com/pizzeria-bianco.

Bianco Restaurant Phoenix

Chris Bianco Group

CHRIS BIANCO’S CRUSHED TOMATO SAUCE

From “Bianco: Pizza, Pasta and Other Food I Like” (Ecco, 2017)

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INGREDIENTS

• 1 28-ounce can of Bianco DiNapoli whole-peeled tomatoes
• 1 generous tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
• 4-5 fresh basil leaves, torn and bruised
• Fine sea salt (optional)

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METHOD

Empty can of whole-peeled tomatoes with their juice into a large bowl. Add olive oil, basil and salt. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes, discarding any bits of skin, hard yellow shoulders or cores, until you end up with a textured yet silky sauce. Let sauce sit for about an hour so the flavors can marry.

Yields four 10-inch pizzas.

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