Peter Reinhart: From Flower Child to Baking Legend

It’s not easy to picture Peter Reinhart, this month’s cover subject and author of the new book Perfect Pan Pizza, as a hippie, but I like to try anyway. As Reinhart explains in our cover story (“The Flavor Rule,” page 28), he discovered his love for dough, bread and baking as a flower child in the 1960s, and I can envision him, complete with long, flowing hair and groovy tie-dye shirt, digging into a huge, sticky ball of dough and shimmy-shaking around to “Good Vibrations” and “Green Tambourine.”

Reinhart eventually gave up the hippie lifestyle, but he went on to become a baking legend, with multiple James Beard Awards for his books and a popular blog, Pizza Quest with Peter Reinhart, that traces his “journey of self-discovery through pizza.” Perfect Pan Pizza is a cookbook, but it’s much more than that. Packed with dozens of recipes, it’s also a treasure trove of advice for newcomers to the pizza kitchen, and industry veterans will find it indispensable for its insights into the science and art of pizza making, not to mention Reinhart’s exquisite descriptions of flavors and textures. He doesn’t just tell you that something tastes good—he tells you, in rapturous terms, what it tastes like and why it tastes that way. (And if you can’t resist “borrowing” some of his language for your menu copy, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.)

Reinhart has been on our dream-cover list for years, so when we learned about this new book, we finally had the perfect excuse to pin him down for a story. Brian Hernandez, our resident test chef, conducted the interview, which ranged far and wide, from the growing popularity of Detroit-style square pizzas to bromated vs. unbromated flours and the secrets of a perfect crumb structure. Space in a print magazine is limited, of course, and we couldn’t include all of the best material in the article, especially the wonkier stuff about baking. Fortunately, Brian also captured the interview on video, so if you’ve got about 90 minutes to spare, check it out at pmq.com/peterreinhart and get ready for an abbreviated but highly informative and engaging master course in baking and pizza making.

Afterwards, you might even find yourself in the kitchen, tinkering with your dough recipe and recalling your own carefree youth. Just be careful attempting those old hippie-style shimmy-shake moves. Trust me when I say that’s a good way to throw your back out.

-Rick Hynum