Pi's Chris Sommers Deep-Dishes on Cooking at the White House...and the Controversy
|User "Wadester16," Wikimedia Commons|
The background, in case you just awoke from a coma: Obama raved about Pi's pizza when in town for his rally beneath the Arch in October of last year. Sommers, managing partner Ryan Mangialardo and Anne Schuermann went to Washington, D.C., last week to cook the restaurant's deep- and thin-crust pizzas in the White House kitchen for Obama, his family and staffers.
News of the trip prompted controversy -- or, more accurately, "controversy" -- after several Chicago pizzeria owners expressed dismay that the president would prefer deep-dish pizza from anywhere besides his hometown. In addition, Internet commenters, among numerous stupid criticisms, questioned whether taxpayer money paid for the trip or the pizza itself.
"You want to kind of respond to everything," Sommers told me when I called him this afternoon. "But at the same time you want to take the high road."
Sommers, who doesn't hide his support of Obama, hopes his appearance on Fox & Friends will afford him the opportunity to dispel what he terms "the pizza-gate crap."
But enough about "pizza-gate." How did things go at the White House?
|Shealah Craighead, Wikimedia Commons|
|The White House kitchen.|
The Pi trio were given a tour of the White House grounds, including the new organic garden, before heading into the kitchen, which Sommers describes as "the cleanest I've ever seen -- outside of mine, of course."
The kitchen is small, however -- too small for the entire team to work together. Sommers and Schuermann prepared the deep-dish pies in the main kitchen, while Mangialardo made the thin-crust pizza in the pastry kitchen upstairs. The two kitchens are connected by a steep spiral staircase, which -- to give you some idea of how cramped the quarters are -- doubles as a storage area.
|Chuck Kennedy, Wikimedia Commons|
|The Roosevelt Room, sans pizza.|
"We were worried they were going to cancel this thing because of all the negative publicity," Sommers admits. Instead, the controversy went almost entirely unmentioned. According to Sommers, the only person to address it was someone from the White House communications office, who told Sommers, "I've been deflecting this story for two days, so I better get some pizza!"
Controversy aside, the publicity has been a boon to Pi, with diners enduring long waits for both lunch and dinner. "We've hired fifteen people in the last two days," reports Sommers. "We needed to hire for the patio season, but this blindsided us."