“Most cookbooks are stupid.”
Joe Beddia lays that out in the introduction to his own, called “Pizza Camp,” due out April 18 from Abrams Books. So, why is his not stupid? The former-brewer-turned-pizza-maker is the renegade behind Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia, named best pizza in the country by Bon Appetit, and he wants to help you make the best pizza ever, right in your own kitchen.
Sure, plenty of pizza cookbooks already exist. But Beddia sees a major flaw in them: “A lot of the pizza books I see out there are all for wood-fired ovens,” he says. “You can’t even make that pizza at home. I was like ‘How do you do this for real?’ In my mind, that’s how a cookbook should be. This pizza, my pizza, that Andrew Knowlton says is the best in the country—I can make that pizza at home.”
And he says you can, too. “I do a nice long, slow [dough] fermentation. I use great ingredients and after that it’s just simplicity, you know? It’s finding great stuff and letting it speak for itself,” Beddia says. “Scientifically I don’t know a lot about baking and I didn’t go to culinary school, but I have that sensibility of simplicity and letting something alone.”
Beddia developed some of that minimalist sense during his time in Japan, which makes its own version of Neapolitan-style pizza. Beddia was in Japan working for Kiuchi Brewery, makers of Hitachino beers, but he spent a lot of time eating and researching their pizza.
“Something about Japan really speaks to me; it’s a very peaceful place,” he says. “And it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had, way better than Naples. A lot of things across the board there are meticulous. The dough’s really light. The stuff in America is very soft; theirs is lighter, crispier, airier. When I saw these little pizza places doing this thing, I was like ‘That’s it!’”
Though he worked for years in breweries including Yards, Stoudt’s, Boston Beer Works and Kiuchi, Beddia’s personality is better suited to pizza making than beer brewing.
“I’m more of an ADHD person. I don’t have the capacity for focusing or studying science; I just kind of understand something and then like to work with the feel of things,” he says. “It’s great for cooking, but I think I was about half successful with brewing beer.”
These days, Beddia’s focus is on his small pizzeria, which draws hours-long lines. He doesn’t even have much of an appetite for beer anymore, having switched to primarily natural wines.
“I’m so unhealthy that for me to drink beer and eat bread, it’s not gonna feel that good,” he says. “But for pizza pairing, a dry saison would be the ultimate for me, a little bit hoppy but definitely dry. The only beers I would only care to drink any more are saisons or pilsners or pale ales.”
While readers may not find tons of beer suggestions in “Pizza Camp,” they’ll instead discover 200-plus pages of beautiful pizza shots, hand-drawn doodles, annotated prep photos and even some shots of pug dogs chowing down on slices, all inside sections for Basic Pizza; White Pizza; Toppings; Composed Pizzas; and Hoagies and Sandwiches, Etc.
Or, as Beddia puts it in his intro: “Fact is, I’ve spent my career figuring out the best way to make pizza and it’s all in here, but you’ll also have to put up with all my bullshit if you want it. The drawings, the bad jokes, the random notes and thoughts—if you want good pizza, you’ll deal. I promise you it’s worth it, just like the wait at my shop.”